Sen. Ron Rice challenged Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Gov. Phil Murphy and Sen. Nicholas Scutari to debate him on marijuana legalization Monday.
“I will debate, the senate president, the governor, Scutari and Coughlin at the same time in cities like Newark as long as we bring the preschool parents out, the parents of kids that’s going to school every day and senior citizens to the meeting,” Rice said. “I’ll let them say what they want to say, and I’ll say what I have to say, and I guarantee you they’ll get out of my town and all urban towns.”
Rice, a fierce opponent of marijuana legalization, is the sponsor of a bill that would put the issue to a referendum.
Coughlin, Sweeney and other Democratic leaders in Trenton have said they plan to become the second state to legalize marijuana legislatively. They do not intend to put Rice’s bill, which he is co-sponsoring with Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, to a vote.
Despite having reached a deal, Sweeney and Murphy have not yet advanced on recreational marijuana.
A bill reflecting their deal, which was reached in mid-February, has not yet been drafted, and legislative leaders are holding off on vote whipping until they have a copy of that bill.
Unfortunately for them, Rice isn’t the only Democrat with a less-than-favorable outlook on legalized marijuana.
A number of senators — including Sens. Paul Sarlo, Nia Gill, Joe Cryan and former Gov. Dick Codey — are either undecided or against marijuana legalization.
Without some of those Democrats, any legalization bill will have trouble meeting the 21-vote threshold needed to advance in the Senate.
There’s little doubt that the referendum would win majority support were it to be held in 2020.
A record 62% told Monmouth University pollsters they supported legalization in February.
Unfortunately for marijuana proponents, 2019’s election cycle is as off as off-year elections get in New Jersey. Assembly seats are at the top of this year’s ticket, and turnout is expected to reflect the relative sleepiness of the cycle.
That wasn’t a part of Rice’s calculation. He said there simply wasn’t enough time to wait.
“They’re trying to fast track the bill,” Rice said. “If you’re trying to fast track a bill, then you need to get the voters involved with it. I don’t think they should do a bill right now at all.”