Republican runs on pro-pot platform in longshot House bid

By Yahaira Torres Ledesma
Bronx, NY

Steven Uccio, the Republican House candidate in New Jersey’s 12th District, is hoping to appeal to voters in his predominantly liberal district through libertarian policy positions like drug decriminalization. But the inexperienced, largely unknown candidate still faces long odds in November against Democratic incumbent Bonnie Watson Coleman.

At a press conference August 6 at the Middlesex County Fair, Uccio, 30, discussed the war on drugs at length. “The drug war has been a total failure,” he said. “I will be more independent-minded and follow my values.” He believes that possession of marijuana or heroin should be decriminalized so that addicts are sent to rehabilitation instead of jail. 

Uccio said he would also work on decreasing the unemployment rate to prevent people from turning to dealing drugs, saying “if they have jobs, they wouldn’t need that.” He added that he’d also boost the 12th District’s economy by legalizing the growing industry of hemp-based clothing, cosmetics, plastics and other products.

Uccio switched from the Libertarian Party to the Republican Party just last year. Like many Libertarians, he is pro-gun rights, pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights. But despite disagreeing with Republicans on several key policies, he switched because he believes “if you want to win in Mercer County, you have to be a Republican or a Democrat.” Uccio, who is originally from New York, believes that he is a better fit for the district than Watson Coleman, a New Jersey native. “I’m no expert by any means,” he said, “[but] she has a poor understanding of the Constitution.”

Gary Gilbert, 40, who was selling lighting at the county fair, shares Uccio’s belief that “we should get back to our constitutional rights. There shouldn’t be a Republican Party or a Democratic Party.”

And he agreed that the war on drugs isn’t working. “When it comes to drugs, I think we need to start over,” said Gilbert, who grabbed the microphone on the fair’s main stage since business at his booth was slow. “We need to educate people on what marijuana does, on what heroin does.”

But Gilbert also showed the challenge Uccio faces against Watson Coleman: He didn’t even know who Uccio was.

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