Editor's Note: On Tuesday, a panel discussion covered by TAPinto Newark was held at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark about the potential for marijuana to be legalized in New Jersey.

Sen. Ronald Rice, a Democratic lawmaker representing Newark who does not support legalization, responded to the discussion, which he was unable to attend. His remarks, which were sent to TAPinto Newark, are reprinted in full to provide readers with better understanding of his position. 

Most of the public conversations about legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey have centered on how profits will be made and who will pocket the lion’s share of those profits. Under the guise of concern for the social justice disparities caused by marijuana use, opinions are being tossed around without a comprehensive understanding of this very complex issue.

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I’ve studied the realities of legalization and know the negative impact on communities and the dire consequences clearly evident in urban, minority areas where marijuana retail stores are most commonly situated. Many of New Jersey’s more affluent shore and suburban communities have already passed ordinances and resolutions to protect themselves from legalization.  

At the very time that cities such as Newark, Perth Amboy, New Brunswick, Camden and Jersey City are finally beginning to see a renaissance – with investors investing and working middle class families and businesses moving in – we are on the verge of a colossal blunder that will undermine our progress.

New Jersey is not Colorado. It is the most densely populated state in the country: the fourth smallest by area and the 11th most populous, with nine million people.  

The effect of legalization could be catastrophic. Its proponents don’t publicize its impact on health, public safety, auto accidents, insurance, workers compensation, business liability, workplace safety, increased addiction and drug trafficking.  No one mentions that in Colorado, black people are still arrested three times more frequently for marijuana violations than whites are. Or that decriminalization is the most effective way to combat the social justice disparity.

Obviously, this is an issue that requires public education and must be put on a statewide referendum for a public vote prior to legislation. 

Toward that end, I invite every municipality in the state to reach out to my office in Newark and arrange for a town hall discussion. I will present the complexities of marijuana legislation to your homeowners, parents, senior citizens, business owners, school officials, faith leaders and everyone interested in knowing the full spectrum of information necessary for responsible decision-making.

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