Former State Senator Ron Rice (D-Essex), the main opposition to the NJ weed industry it created, is dead.
Rice, 77, died of cancer. He resigned from his NJ Senate seat last August. He was a former police officer who fought in Vietnam. As befitting a former State Senator, many NJ weed supporters put out respectful statements.
Governor Phil Murphy ordered that US and New Jersey flags fly at half-staff at all state buildings and facilities from Thursday, March 16, 2023, until Thursday, March 23, 2023, in recognition of Ron Rice.
“It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of Senator Ron Rice, a man whom I was proud to call a partner and a friend,” said Murphy. “New Jersey has lost a champion who leaves behind a legacy of compassion and courage.”
“Sen Rice and I found ourselves on opposite sides on the matter of Cannabis legalization. Through our spirited discussions along with Bishop Jethro James, a mutual respect and unlikely friendship between us developed did form,” noted cannabis advocate and businessman Leo Bridgewater said. “I will miss my friend and our epic arguments over cannabis. Thank you Senator Rice for your service to your community.”
“There are those who thought Senator Rice’s objections to cannabis legalization were obstructionist in nature. Those of us who knew the Senator from our previous years of experience with him knew he was trying to establish the best legislative and regulatory framework possible for New Jersey’s marginalized communities,” NJ CannaBusiness Association (NJCBA) President Ed DeVeaux said.
“I will always remember Senator Rice as someone who negotiated from a position of strength – principled,” he added.
While Ron Rice did not support the creation of the New Jersey adult-use cannabis industry, he was for decriminalization.
Decriminalization was always paired with legalization, which complicated matters. Adult-use cannabis referendum was put on the ballot in November 2019 for the 2020 election. Nothing was done on decriminalization to the detriment of likely thousands of individuals.
In the wake of the George Floyd Black Lives Matters protests, he did sponsor a decriminalization bill with Senators Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) and Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson that would decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of cannabis.
NJ Cannabis Industry Opponent
Ron Rice often talked about the problems of large White-owned cannabis corporations that are Multi-State Operators (MSOs). However, unlike other Black legislators like Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), Assemblyman Benji Wimberly (D-Passaic), and Jamel Holley (D-Union), he never took the initiative to sponsor legislation to promote social equity and minority-owned cannabis companies.
In fact, Ron Rice’s arguments against NJ weed legalization were used by the many opposition leaders who have since faded into the background with a few exceptions. They worked closely with some Rice allies to oppose New Jersey cannabis legalization. As Chair of the Black Legislative Caucus, Rice held cannabis hearings that highlighted cannabis opponents.
The policy differences between NJ weed industry legalization champion Nick Scutari (D-Union) and Ron Rice spilled over into the politics surrounding NJ weed legalization. Near the end of the epic NJ weed legalization process following the referendum, Ron Rice had a fight with Scutari.
During the legalization push in the Statehouse following the referendum, Rice continued to champion criminal justice reforms. However, near the end of the process, it seemed to add delays.
Before the legalization bill finally passed, Scutari yelled,
“For all these years, I’ve been fighting for social justice. Where have you been?!”
Ron Rice nominated Nia Gill to be NJ Senate President versus Scutari, who ultimately lost.