Senator Ronald Rice Supports Medical Marijuana Bill But Wants Criminal Expungement, Decriminalization Next

Senator Ronald Rice says that he will not vote on a NJ state budget that doesn't include $140 million in cost savings gained through a marijuana decriminalization and expungement law that eliminates unjust judicial and correctional practices targeting poor, minority and urban residents.

Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) never wanted recreational marijuana legalized. He wants it decriminalized, however, and as part of that he wants the criminal records of those individuals incarcerated for pot possession expunged.

The veteran senator from Newark celebrated Senate President Steve Sweeney’s (D-3) announcement today that adult recreational marijuana is dead at the moment , and he supports the proffered alternative, namely the expansion of medical marijuana.

But what Rice really wants now is decrim and criminal expungement.

“I do feel good,” he said shortly after Sweeney called him where Rice was at a street dedicating ceremony for the late Newark Mayor Ken Gibson. “The senate president was good enough to let me know that the recreational aspect is not moving forward and that he is trying to get it on the ballot for 2020. I appreciate him not trying to push this. There are caucus members who have been doing a lot of research who would understand the negative impact.

“But medical should be expanded,” Rice said. “We need criminal expungement and decriminalization.”

At his press conference today, Sweeney said he’s game for expungement.

Rice has been critical of Governor Phil Murphy for arguing the black and brown community advantages of legalizing recreational marijuana.  “What it tells me, if that’s your point of view, is you really don’t understand our community,” Rice said.

The senator said he intends to keep aggressively advancing his argument.

He intends to talk to black elected officials, and he intends to talk more to Sweeney.

The senate president initially said he was opposed to Rice’s point of view, and now he claims he is not interested in it, the Newark senator said.

“Not interested” offers more daylight than opposed, Rice said.

The senator wants to press decriminalization and – in the interim between now and the ballot question, and with Sweeney’s help in the caucus – expungement.

“It’s offensive to say we shouldn’t be in jail but you’re going to keep us there,” the senator said. “We have a responsibility to stand up and move forward. Why are we waiting for a ballot question when we can do decriminalization right now? I don’t think black and brown people should be in cellblock waiting for a ballot question. We cannot shy away away from our history of struggle.”

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