New Jersey: Poll Finds 61% of Voters Favor Marijuana Decriminalization
Solid Majority Also Now Supports Legalizing, Taxing and Regulating Marijuana for Personal Use
Overwhelming Public Support Adds Momentum to Pending Senate Bill that Decriminalizes Small Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use
By Steve Elliott
An overwhelming majority of New Jersey voters support reducing the penalty for simple marijuana possession from a criminal offense to a small fine similar to a traffic ticket, according to a new poll of likely voters by Lake Research Partners. The poll was commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance.
The poll found that 61 percent of those asked support a proposal to make possession of two ounces or less of marijuana a civil violation. Currently, possession of this amount is a criminal offense that carries a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. A conviction also results in a criminal record that cannot be expunged for at least five years.
The poll also found that support for decriminalization is broad-based, traversing North, Central and South Jersey, and that it bridges gender, race and partisan divides. An overwhelming 82 percent of those polled said that they would either be more likely to vote for an elected official who supported reducing penalties for marijuana possession or that it would make no difference in their vote.
Not only is New Jersey poised to catch up to a growing contingent of other states that have already decriminalized or otherwise reduced penalties for marijuana possession, it appears to be in a position to lead the issue: 59 percent of those polled also favor legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana.
“New Jersey voters are ready for aggressive and immediate change of state marijuana laws, with strong majorities supporting decriminalizing up to two ounces of marijuana,” said Daniel Gotoff, a partner at Lake Research. “Support for this reform is remarkably broad, including majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans, as well as voters from every major region in the state.”
A bill is pending in the Legislature that would decriminalize up to two ounces of marijuana and instead make possession a civil violation that carries a simple fine similar to a traffic ticket. S1977 is sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union), Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson).
Advocates said 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,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “New Jerseyans understand that current penalties for marijuana are unfair and wasteful. These laws should be changed now. ”
Advocates also point out appalling racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests. Although statistics show that people of all races consume 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.
Nearly 50 percent of Americans admit to having tried marijuana at some point in their lives.
Fifteen other states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island) have already decriminalized small quantities of marijuana for personal use, in amounts ranging from one half ounce to three ounces.