Proponents of legalizing recreation marijuana use said a newly released Fairleigh Dickinson University poll on the subject doesn’t provide conclusive evidence of public concerns.
“Using the term legalization in polling also implies moral approval of use, which a regulated market does not do,” said Charles Gormally, co-chair of the Cannabis Law Practice Group at Brach Eichler, told NJBIZ. “The entire poll is flawed in my judgement because legalized implies an unrestricted free-for-all environment that is easy to have some concerns about.”
The poll, released Thursday, asked respondents what the “best decision” is for New Jersey’s marijuana policy and suggests three options: keep the sale and use of marijuana illegal while keeping medical marijuana legal; decriminalizing small amounts and treating possession as a traffic ticket while keeping medical marijuana legal; or “make it legal for use and sales in stores.”
A plurality of respondents, 42 percent, preferred full legalization, while 27 percent opted for the status quo and 26 percent chose decriminalization.
One organization critical of marijuana legalization said the majority of the public supports its position.
“This poll shows that New Jerseyans have serious concerns about legalizing recreational marijuana,” said Jeanette Hoffman, a spokesperson for New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy, which advocates for decriminalization and medical marijuana, but opposes legal recreational use.
NJ-RAMP issued a statement on the poll, saying, “The majority of residents, 53 percent, want recreational marijuana to remain illegal.” That number includes respondents preferring decriminalization.
Those in favor of legalization said responses might have been different had the question been worded more clearly.
“The proper question should be ‘Should New Jersey create a private, adult-use-only, regulated and taxed cannabis market?’” Gormally said.
FDU has polled state residents on marijuana legalization in the past. In 2014, a minority of respondents, 41 percent, favored legalization; in 2015, that number increased slightly to 49 percent. However, previous polls only offered two options: favor legalization and oppose legalization.
Even with what he perceived as the poll’s flaws, Gormally said it showed a majority of residents want a change in the state’s marijuana policy.
“While [the new poll] is flawed on its question dealing with a new marketplace, it does prove that only 27 percent of all questioned favor maintaining the status quo,” Gormally said. “This is a striking rejection of the failed policy of the past and opportunity for real leaders to lead.”
NJ-RAMP’s Hoffman also showed an interest in more in-depth polling.
“It’s not as simple as illegal or legal, it has a lot of shades of gray,” Hoffman said.
Other cannabis experts suggested public support may rely on what legislation is proposed.
“The question will be whether this sentiment remains consistent as revised or new legislation with greater specificity about the potential market is introduced and debated,” said Daniel McKillop, counsel at law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, is expected to introduce a new legalization bill to New Jersey’s legislature within the next week. It is supposed to address concerns about homegrown legality, expungement of criminal records and the number of licenses available in the state.