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Potential Legalization of Marijuana in New Jersey Grabs the Attention of the University Community

Marijuana Legal StatusNew Jersey lawmakers held a hearing to consider the potential legalization of recreational marijuana on Monday, Nov. 16th. If legalized, New Jersey will be the 5th state in America to do so.

 Presently, New Jersey allows marijuana usage  strictly for medicinal use. According to the Asbury Park Press, NJ lawmakers will begin to consider whether or not marijuana should be taxed and regulated for citizens 21 years and older. In a poll administered by the Monmouth University Polling Institute, in 2014 the percentage of New Jersey voters for and against the legalization of marijuana was nearly equal.

If marijuana were legalized and allowed on campus, Suanne Schaad, the Substance Awareness Coordinator, said that the campus would be a ‘sh-t show.’ “It would eventually become the norm to see students high, and smoking weed on the quad. In class students would be day dreaming, and not as present. Marijuana is a substance that alters our state of mind. The effects of it are truly not going to assist our society,” said Schaad.

William McElrath, Chief of the Monmouth University Police Department (MUPD), thinks similarly that the legalization of marijuana would have a detrimental impact. “The legalization of marijuana would greatly increase its use. I also fear that it could possibly lead to an increase in injuries and deaths as a result of people driving their vehicles while under the influence of marijuana,” he said.

“Smoking marijuana causes car accidents,” said Schaad. “People more commonly know to call a cab or an Uber if they’re drinking but it’s not parallel with smoking. I don’t think people see it as being as dangerous as alcohol. Smoking weed, then driving does not seem as bad as drinking four beers and then driving. But you can’t smoke up and then go drive to McDonalds, because you’ve got the munchies,” she said.

Some students think that the legalization of marijuana would cause little change. “For one thing, students might go to class high, but I’m pretty sure some people do that anyway. I found a joint in one of the ashtrays outside of the Dining Hall. So I don’t think legalization would make a difference because college students are using it already,” said Jen Russo, a sophomore animation student.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, Russo’s assumptions are correct. Last year the daily or near-daily number of marijuana users on college campuses were the highest since 1980. According to their study one in every 17 college students is smoking marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis.

According to statistics from MUPD, in 2015 there has been a total of 12 student arrests for marijuana possession and/or associated paraphernalia at the university.

Dr. Joseph Patten, the Chair of the Political Science Department, said that the decriminalization of marijuana is growing in popularity due to high incarceration rates in America. “There are roughly 2.5 million people currently behind bars, which is more than any country in the world,” he said.

According to norml.org, 20 states have passed laws decriminalizing marijuana possession. In nearly all of these states’ decriminalization protects individuals from arrest, prison time, or from having their criminal record affected by a first-time possession.

Patten said, “There is a spectrum between states. There are those states that legalize marijuana, like Colorado, and there are a lot of states like New Jersey that legalize marijuana simply for medical marijuana, and then there are other states that short of legalizing it, have decriminalized it, meaning that one will not go to jail for it, but will have to pay a fine.”

Nancy Uddin, the Chair of the Accounting Department, deduces that an increase in tax revenue is bound to ensue with the legalization of marijuana. Nonetheless, she affirms that state legislatures do not always use revenue the right way. “Historically, New Jersey hasn’t spent taxes for what they were collected for. For example we collect tolls on the parkway and turnpike, and that’s supposed to go to roads, but it really doesn’t. So it all depends on what the legislatures chose to do with the budget once they estimate what the revenues will be after taxing that commodity,” said Uddin.

 Patten does not think that an increase in revenue from marijuana tax would significantly impact the state’s budget. “At the state level there are a lot of problems in terms of the budget. For instance, the transportation fund is near bankruptcy, the pension fund for state employees is a multi-billion dollar deficit, and property taxes are very high, the highest in the country. The average property tax rate is $8,000 per house,” he said. “So given the enormity of some of the structural problems New Jersey has, it is hard to imagine that simply legalizing marijuana would serve as a cure for some of these major structural problems,” he continued.

Russo does not support the recreational use of marijuana, but she does support medicinal use. “I think that people smoke marijuana to get high, and that’s their lives, and they can do whatever they want. But I think it is stupid, like why are you easily killing your brain cells like that. But I think it’s okay for medical reasons, because it helps people,” she said.

“New Jersey has very strong criteria for being eligible for a medicinal marijuana license. California does not, you could go in for a minor ailment almost, and be awarded a medicinal marijuana license,” said Schaad.

According to Schaad, although marijuana may be legal in some states, citizens are still using illegal means to obtain it. “In the states that have legalized it, it is actually more expensive to buy it from the state than it is to buy it from Joe Shmo drug dealer from down the block. So people are still buying it from Joe Shmo drug dealer because it’s cheaper, and it’s stronger,” she feels.

Patten believes that marijuana does have the potential for legalization due to a divide in opinion of marijuana use.

“I think it is possible. There is a generational gap on this issue, and I think that naturally older people view this issue differently than younger people. The same kind of generational gap existed with same sex marriage and we just experienced dramatic shifts of thinking on same-sex marriage over the last ten years, and now it’s the legal law of the land. I think this issue is still at an early stage.”

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