Rutgers-Eagleton poll: ‘Overwhelming’ support for medical marijuana; majority favors decriminalization

TRENTON – One day after Gov. Chris Christie attempted to kick start the state’s medical marijuana program, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows the public is staunchly behind him.

According to the poll, 86 percent of respondents favor legalization of marijuana for medical purposes – a current law being met with roadblocks in the implementation stage.

Yesterday, Christie named a former State Police lieutenant as the new coordinator of the program, but the poll director David Redlawsk, professor of political science at Rutgers University, wondered at the pace at which the program is progressing.

“The slowness with which the Christie administration appears to be implementing the medical marijuana law passed at the end of the Corzine administration seems to fly in the face of public opinion,” said Redlawsk. “While recent reports say some of the problem is related to the difficulties of opening the dispensaries called for under the law, public support for the concept is very strong.”

The poll canvassed 753 registered New Jersey voters between Nov. 9 and Nov. 12, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.6 percentage points.

Just over half of the polled voters think marijuana possession should not be penalized at all, up from 35 percent in a similar 1972 poll. A third of respondents would completely legalize sale and use of the drug, compared to 21 percent in 1972.

“When we first asked these questions in the early 1970s, Garden Staters were much less supportive, although attitudes became more liberalized throughout that decade,” Redlawsk said.

Like many other issues, marijuana has become more partisan over the years: in 1972, Democrats and Republicans were only four points apart, but today the gap has grown to 20 points, with 64 percent of Democrats, but only 44 percent of Republicans supporting reduced penalties for its use. At the same time, the vast majority of current respondents (86 percent) support the availability of medical marijuana by prescription, including 92 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans.

“Issues surrounding marijuana remain similar to where they were 30 or 40 years ago, when we last asked, but voters have become a bit more liberal over the years,” said Redlawsk. “Even so, people continue to stop short at complete legalization, except for medical use. There simply does not seem to be any momentum for going much further than that.”

Rutgers-Eagleton poll: ‘Overwhelming’ support for medical marijuana; majority favors decriminalization