Yesterday, New Jersey residents voted “Yes” or “No” to decide if recreational cannabis should become legal. Over the years, there have been challenges getting legalization passed through the state legislature; because of these issues, they have decided to cast a referendum and declare a constitutional amendment if passed. As a lifelong New Jersey resident, I am confident there will be more benefits to our state if it passes. As a conservative, I never thought my views on marijuana would have changed, but now this is an issue where I disagree with some Republicans on. Let me explain.
I am not a supporter of drug use, but I do believe in the idea of adults having personal freedom. We claim we live in the land of the free, but are we staying true to that statement? These drug prohibitions have allowed the government to dictate our lives instead of being accountable to the constitution. Although I think drug prohibition in the past was written with good intentions, I think it has caused more harm than good.
For example, a reason why African Americans and other minorities have higher levels of incarceration is due to strict drug legislation, commonly known as the “War on Drugs.” Americans over the years have unjustly been imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses. There have also been instances where botched police raids have led to accidental deaths. I get it, drugs are not good for society, but is it worth packing the prisons and issuing warrants over a virtually harmless plant?
Marijuana was also completely normal before the 1970s. Federal law prohibitions started as a response to the 1960s hippie counterculture. What most people today do not realize is it used to be legal dating back to the Jamestown era. The founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington admitted to growing cannabis on their plantations. I did not believe this historical claim at first, but I discovered it was completely true. Given the historical societal tolerance for cannabis, I think this begs another question. There are also plenty of legal vices in our society like gambling, alcohol, tobacco, adult clubs, etc. What makes marijuana any different from them?
Another argument for legalization is New Jersey’s reputation as a popular tourist state. The Jersey Shore itself generates on average six billion dollars per year. Robert H. Scott III, Professor in the Economics Department, explained the details of legalization in his recent opinion article on NJ.com. He said there could be opportunities for tax substitutes and a potential five percent employment increase if legalization happens.
Legalized marijuana could also affect universities in New Jersey. Monmouth University’s administration is aware of this potential. Vice President Mary Anne Nagy, Director of Student Life, said there could be new issues with legalized cannabis. She said, “There are some concerns about how legalized marijuana could affect student life at Monmouth. One of the main concerns is campus safety and dangerous behavior like people driving high to campus.”
Nagy continued, “If students use legalized marijuana it could potentially decrease academic and/or athletic performance in students. We will see what happens after the election, but whether or not marijuana becomes legal, I want students to know that if they feel that their use of substances is affecting them negatively in any way, there is help available at the school.”
She explained the details of Monmouth’s policy, “It’s important to know that even if marijuana becomes legal in New Jersey, it will still not be allowed on campus. Since the university accepts federal funds for a variety of reasons (financial aid is a big one), we must follow federal law as it relates to controlled substances and marijuana is considered a controlled substance under federal law. In addition, illegal alcohol and drug usage will still not be permitted in the student code of conduct.”
In Scott’s article, he also mentioned more students from out of state might be interested in applying to New Jersey colleges if marijuana is legal. Nagy responded, “In terms of enrollment, I don’t see the legalization of marijuana impacting our enrollment from out-of-state students because again, we would not permit its use on campus.” She emphasized, “Might there be some students from a state where it is not legal to come to NJ, maybe. However, I would hope that the reason that people come to Monmouth University is our great professors, a strong close-knit community, and an ideal location to live out the college experience.”
Yesterday voters decided the answer to this question at the polls. I understand why people still think marijuana should still be illegal; their opinion is valid. There are good reasons to argue for continuing anti-drug policies. Despite the potential negatives, in my opinion, marijuana legalization seems to do more good than harm.
IMAGE TAKEN from The Washington Post