NJ Marijuana Legalization: Is Support For Legal Weed Growing

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Most New Jerseyans support a change to the state’s marijuana laws, but the Garden State isn’t totally sold on becoming a green state.

According to a new Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, about 68 percent of New Jerseyans are in favor of some kind of changes to the state’s marijuana laws.

But only 42 percent support complete weed legalization, while 26 percent instead favor decriminalization of the drug, turning a criminal charge of marijuana possession into a traffic ticket.

Another 27 percent of New Jerseyans don’t want any change, calling to keep medical marijuana legal and recreational marijuana illegal.

“When given choices, opinion is clearly divided,” said Fairleigh Dickinson University poll director Krista Jenkins said. “Anyone who expected legalization to happen quickly and easily might reconsider given these findings.”

Opinion is generally divided among party, gender, age and political lines: The most likely people to support legalization are young male Democrats. An older Republican woman is most likely to oppose legal weed.

Though Fairleigh Dickinson has polled the state on legal weed in years past, this was the first time the options went beyond “yes” or “no.” In 2014, 41 percent said they favored legalization. That number grew to 49 percent in 2015.

About 57 percent said they had tried marijuana in the past, but only 75 percent of respondents said they planned on purchasing legal weed.

“As more and more local governments come forward to oppose legalizing pot, this poll sends a clear message to Governor Murphy and state legislators that the majority New Jerseyans do not want Big Marijuana to profit at the expense of their communities and families,” said Kevin Sabet, founder of New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy, a coalition that opposes legalization.

Eight states have already legalized recreational marijuana — with a ninth, Vermont, on the way — while another 13 states have decriminalized weed in some form.

Murphy made marijuana legalization a tent pole of his successful gubernatorial platform. He has pledged to sign a legalization bill within his first 100 days in office and has already signed an executive order expanding the state’s medical marijuana program.

If all goes according to plan, cannabis industry experts expect the first retail weed stores to open in January 2020, though medical marijuana dispensaries could begin selling recreational pot earlier. Watch a video at the top of the page about the New Jersey Cannabis Symposium, a gathering of advocates and entrepreneurs looking to break into the weed business.

According to the poll, opinion is sharply divided when it comes to the location of retail marijuana stores. About 49 percent said they would favor a store opening near their home, while 43 percent would oppose it.

Murphy has repeatedly cited social justice concerns as the driver behind marijuana legalization: Although studies have shown that black and white people smoke marijuana at about the same rate, blacks are arrested at nearly four times the rate of whites.

Current drafts of legalization bills in the Legislature would allow those with a prior marijuana possession conviction to apply for expungement, an option that 69 percent of voters favor.

About 65 percent support modifying sentences for inmates currently in prison for the violations.

“If pot is legalized, the public thinks the fair thing to do is forgive those who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law,” Jenkins said. “They would not enforce an old standard under a new law.”