MONTCLAIR, NJ – The pros and cons of legalizing adult recreational marijuana use and sales in the Township of Montclair and the State of New Jersey were discussed on Tuesday evening during a lively town hall meeting hosted by Fourth Ward Councilwoman Dr. Renee Baskerville in the Municipal Council Chamber.
“We meet at a critical point in what some have dubbed ‘the weed discussion in the garden’,” said Councilwoman Baskerville. “It appears as though our Governor Phil Murphy and the state legislative leaders have reached a deal in principal on how to tax and regulate marijuana, which removes one of the greatest hurdles in the legalization. I tend not to engage in speculation, conjecture or rumor mongering – I thrive on facilitating data-driven engagements, and tonight, I am hoping that we can provide a lot of information to allow us to learn something new.”
A distinguished panel was assembled by Baskerville, led by New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver at the forefront of the dais.
“I am so excited that our Lieutenant Governor has decided to be here with us tonight,” Baskerville said. “She has been a mentor of mine for so long and this is not the first time that she has agreed to attend one of our community meetings because that’s what she does – she does people and she does it well.”
Other panelists included Montclair Mayor Robert D. Jackson, New Jersey Senators Nia H. Gill and Ronald L. Rice, Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill, Montclair Municipal Prosecutor Joseph C. Angelo, New Jersey Medical Association President Dr. Cynthia Y. Paige, Marijuana Business Association Director of Public Relations Stu Zakim, and Montclair High School Class of 2014 Graduate Frank Barnes III.
“In Trenton, Governor Murphy lovingly refers to Montclair as ‘The Republic of Montclair’ and he does that because the citizens of Montclair are activists and always engaged, always involved, and Montclair runs a government in and of itself,” Oliver said. “It’s always a pleasure to be here. I served in Montclair for 15 years as your Assemblyperson alongside of Assemblyman Giblin, so I’m no stranger to Montclair and its neighborhoods and its people.”
Among the hot button issues discussed regarding Senate Bill 27.03 included the impacts of legalized marijuana on crime, health, the judicial system and the workforce, as well as economic and educational benefits.
“For many years, we have debated the issue of legalization of marijuana in our State,” said Oliver. “While I was in the legislature, we did move, and we did enact legislation to create medical marijuana.”
Oliver continued, “one of the reasons that Governor Murphy has worked with the speaker and Senate President Sweeny to move forward legalization in New Jersey is because our administration looks at the social justice side of the issue. Many of us are extremely concerned about the number of minority men and women who have had their lives deconstructed because they have convictions for the possession of marijuana. I know as an Assemblyperson, I dealt through the years with many constituents and their patents who had to be confronted with that. We believe that if you look around the country and what’s happened in other states, the issue of legalization should be examined and should be embraced, just for the whole social justice aspect alone.”
Some highlights of panelist points of view are as follows:
Senator Nia Gill: “I do not oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana. I voted for and supported medical marijuana and in fact, one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries in the State of New Jersey opened up three or four doors down from my Senate office, which was previously located on Bloomfield Avenue.”
Senator Ron Rice: “I am very adamant about opposing the legalization of recreational marijuana and it offends me when people don’t do enough research on their own. This whole debate has been about money, about wealthy folks coming in, and about having to get this done right away. It’s being sold under the auspices of social justice and to be quite frank about it, black people are being used in the process.”
Freeholder Brendan Gill: “I almost always agree with Senator Rice, but on this particular issue, I have to respectfully disagree. We as elected officials at every level need to listen to the will of our constituents. I can tell you that from conversations with many different people and groups across this state and from the things that I’ve read – and I don’t say that we should govern by poll – but all of the public polling that I’ve seen, including a statewide poll put out by Monmouth University, says that over 65% of the residents of this state want to see legalization of adult recreational marijuana.”
Assemblyman Tom Giblin: “We have a great cross-section here in the audience and in a lot of ways it’s like a cross-section of Americana, and I think that’s a good thing. Going back when a decision was made about the use of medicinal marijuana, I was in support of that effort. There’s a lot of factors to weigh in this decision regarding the affect that recreational marijuana can have on our citizens and our law enforcement personal.”
Local elected officials, community leaders and members of the public attended the two-hour, standing-room-only forum.
Public comments and questions for panel members concluded the town hall meeting. The consensus among resident speakers regarding legalization seemed to be split 50/50.