Resident agrees with senator’s opposition of marijuana legalization

Photo by Chris Sykes
COMPELLING INFORMATION — From left, state Sen. Ron Rice, state Sen. Nia Gill, East Orange Mayor Ted Green, NJ ACLU member Dianna Houenou and Oranges-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear stand on a flight of stairs on Saturday, Oct. 27, during the local civil rights group’s Cannabis Education Forum at Bloomfield College.

IRVINGTON, NJ — State Sen. Ron Rice’s opposition to marijuana legalization in New Jersey found someone who shares his viewpoint in Kathleen Witcher. A longtime resident of Irvington who is a former Irvington NAACP president, former Irvington Board of Education member, former Irvington Housing Authority commissioner and a retired teacher, Witcher is vocal on many issues, including this one. Rice represents the 28th District, which includes Irvington and Newark.

“He’s been saying the same things since they first proposed having giveaways of needles. So Sen. Rice has been on that case ever since then and it has to be more than 35 years,” said Witcher on Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Irvington NAACP’s monthly meeting at Greater New Point Baptist Church. “The reason I am opposing the legalization of marijuana is: No. 1, it’s not a healthy thing for us in our communities; No. 2, in cases, for example, in Colorado, they have the drug markets open, children get there and children should not be exposed and expanded to access to marijuana; No. 3, they have asked for people to apply to open up these drug farms and so forth, where they grow marijuana, and what we know is that the people who live in the community may be the buyers, but they’re never the suppliers and, when asked about the bill, the person from Drug Policy Alliance could not guarantee that the urban centers or any specific groups or any towns or cities would benefit from revenues taken in by sales of the legal marijuana. So anything that’s bad for the health, I think we should not promote.”

Former Irvington NAACP President Merrick Harris, who attended Rice’s community meeting on marijuana legalization at Solid Rock Baptist Church on Chancellor Avenue on Wednesday, Oct. 3, agreed with Witcher. Prior to that, when he had gone on the record opposing marijuana legalization in New Jersey.

“I believe marijuana should not be legalized, especially in our community. We’ve got a lot of things going on with drug use,” said Harris on Sunday, Sept. 30. “I think legalizing marijuana might contribute to a drug issue in our state. We’ll see. We may see auto accidents going up and different things like that. That’s not going to help us. That’s not going to help the community.”

Rice has been making the rounds of all the communities he represents, including Irvington and Newark, and his message has been the same everywhere he’s appeared. He said there are many obstacles that need to be overcome before marijuana can be legalized for medical and recreational use in New Jersey.

“I’m not against, and many of my colleagues are not against, decriminalization of recreational marijuana. There’s a difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. The medical side we can fix. It’s the recreational side,” said Rice on Saturday, Oct. 27.