Before the debate on the legalization of adult-use cannabis between Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-20th District, and Sen. Ron Rice, D-28th District, at Saint Peter’s University started, Holley lauded Rice for guiding younger black and brown people in the legislature.
The two lawmakers remain on opposite sides of the debate, however. NJ Spotlight editor-in-chief Lee Keough also participated in the debate.
To a room of about 10 dozen people, mostly students, Rice expressed concern over increases in babies born with THC in their system, increases in car accidents, increases in homelessness, and more in legal adult-use states such as Colorado.
Holley answered those concerns with commentary on population increases and harped on the social justice aspects of legalization intended to fix issues created by the War on Drugs.
“Eighty people every day in the state of New Jersey are arrested for low-level possessions of marijuana,” Holley said. “Most of the people tend to look like me. We spend $130 million in New Jersey just for convictions, charges and arrests for low-level possession of marijuana. African Americans and Latinos are three times more likely to be arrested and convicted on these charges.”
A long proponent of the decriminalization of cannabis and sponsor of a decriminalization bill, Rice said he sees eye to eye with Holley on addressing the social justice issues, but that this bill is really about money.
Legislators think everyone knows what they’re talking about, but I’ve found [people] don’t know what’s going on.
“It’s being sold to the public about social justice. In Denver they legalized recreational marijuana and sold it under the auspices of social justice,” Rice said. “The reality is that the number of black people where its legalized are still incarcerated three times greater than white folk. Legalization did not address that issue in those states.”
Multiple students posed questions and expressed they were in favor of medical marijuana but on the fence or opposed to adult use. According to Keough, most people in New Jersey don’t have access to medical marijuana within half an hour of their homes. Additionally, she said, most New Jerseyans don’t know what’s in the bill because it’s being done legislatively instead of by ballot measure.
“[In other places] everyone in the state got involved in the discussion, but because this was a legislative deal, there have been a lot of panels like this,” Keough said. “Legislators think everyone knows what they’re talking about, but I’ve found [people] don’t know what’s going on.”
For a student proponent of medical cannabis, Holley noted that individuals who are African Americans are less likely to have health insurance.
“Some folks don’t have access to go the medical route. So if you want to support medical marijuana, which is used for medical purposes for a human being and has the same effects on a person who can’t get medical insurance, that’s the same as legalization. They’re one and the same, they’re not different,” Holley said.
At the end of the debate, moderator and executive director for the Guarini Institute, Ginger Gold Schnitzer asked the audience if anyone’s opinions had been changed during the event. A handful of audience members said theirs had.