A significant majority of New Jerseyans support legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll. The poll was conducted in partnership with the Drug Policy Alliance.
The poll found that 58 percent of New Jersey residents support legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana like alcohol for adults 21 and over. Those surveyed were most persuaded to support marijuana legalization and regulation as a result of New Jersey's costly marijuana laws. New Jersey wastes more than $125 million a year arresting people for marijuana possesssion. This absurd policy criminalizes otherwise law-abiding citizens and wastes law enforcement resources that would be better spent on serious crime and public safety issues.
"Support for legalization in New Jersey is growing, which mirrors national polls," said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. "By asking a question that makes clear legalization for adults 21 and over would come with taxes and regulation, we provided context that may account for some of the 9-point jump in support from our April 2014 poll. Even so, no matter how the question is asked, we have been seeing a long-term upward trend in favor of marijuana legalization among New Jerseyans."
Advocates say the polling bolsters calls for reform. "More than 22,000 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010 at a cost of more than $125 million dollars," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "New Jerseyans believe that our current marijuana laws are unfair and wasteful. These laws should be changed now."
Advocates emphasize that tax revenue from the sale of marijuana could generate millions of dollars to fund projects that help all New Jersey residents. Four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington) and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana. Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2012, has generated $74.5 million of tax revenue from marijuana to date.
"Legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana will generate much-needed revenue for the state to fund important programs, at a time when New Jersey is struggling to meet its financial obligations. Legalization would also create jobs in sales, production and related services, which will spur economic activity," said Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union). "The majority of people in America and in New Jersey support legalizing marijuana, and this is more evidence this is the direction we need to go in. It's well past time that we updated our archaic drug laws nationally. But we should take the lead in New Jersey because it is the right thing to do for our residents and the responsible thing to do for our state."
Senator Scutari has introduced a bill that would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults. The bill, Senate Bill 1896, and its companion, Assembly Bill 3094, sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon and Mercer) and Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union) create a system, similar to Colorado's, where marijuana would be controlled and regulated like alcohol at every step of the production and sales process.
Reforming New Jersey's failed marijuana laws would also reduce the worst injustices of the current system. Advocates point out the appalling racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Although statistics show that people of all races use marijuana at the same rates, people of color overwhelmingly suffer the criminal consequences. In New Jersey, African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at nearly three times the rate of whites.
Once an individual is convicted of even a minor possession offense, he or she is subject to a system of legal discrimination that makes it difficult or impossible to secure housing, employment, public assistance, federal student aid for higher education, and even a basic driver's license.
"New Jersey's marijuana laws are failing people of color by perpetuating injustice within our state's most vulnerable communities," said Richard Smith, President of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP. "Legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana will be a step forward in reducing the disproportionate burden the criminal justice system has on people of color in New Jersey and provide new sources of revenue to invest in our communities for education, jobs and public safety."