Bogged down in a Union County Democratic Party Khe Sanh earlier this year, state Senator Nick Scutari (D-22) left the marijuana legalization bully pulpit briefly unattended, and his colleague, state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28), promptly filled it, shifting cruise control legalization optics to a wait-a-minute narrative of decriminalization.
“I commend the senate president for working with the black caucus,” Rice said of his old frienemy Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).
Rice told InsiderNJ the senate president’s slack afforded him some room to explicate the impact of legalization on urban and minority communities.
“We should work on the opioid piece,” said the senator.
He also worries about the imbalance legalization could create in his hometown, as suburban residents presumably would see an opportunity to flock to the city in bigger numbers to legally obtain the substance.
“The Governor is making a mistake,” Rice said. “Now I supported him [Phil Murphy], but he is mistaken here. I don’t support the budget right because there is now no real formula for that marijuana piece. It should be a separate bill. I intend to discuss it with him and really drill down on the research that’s lacking, I believe in his presentation.”
Rice said but for the marijuana portion of the $37.4 billion proposal, he supports Murphy’s budget.
“I know we have to do a millionaire’s tax,” the senator said, identifying the crux of the Governor’s budget.
But he looks forward to further discussions to nail down a way he can back the entire document.
In the meantime, his city faces a mayoral election on May 8th.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka appears to be easily beating Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins.
Rice backs him for a second term.
“The mayor’s doing a good job,” the veteran senator said. “From a legislative delegation standpoint, we meet with this mayor almost once a month. Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins is a good leader. Look, I understand. When I ran for mayor [in 2006] I wasn’t going to let Booker run uncontested, and I had 60 days to make something happen. People have different reasons.”
Rice said he hasn’t endorsed in the council contest, and nurses doubts about incumbent West Ward Councilman Joseph A. McCallum in his home ward.
“My councilman has not done all he could have done, but he has done some good things,” Rice said. “The residents seem to have issues. I don’t endorse that whole team. I am only publicly endorsing the mayor and [At-Large Councilwoman] Mildred Crump. As for the other at-large people, you don’t see them. I’m not so enthused about the team. Some of the council people really need to explain some things to the voters.”