Monmouth Poll: New Jerseyans split on pot legalization

New Jerseyans are divided on whether marijuana should be legalized and are not convinced that a recent proposal in the state legislature is a good idea.  The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll finds, though, that most state residents say alcohol and tobacco use pose greater dangers.  This is the first Garden State poll on the topic since State Senator Nick Scutari introduced a marijuana legalization bill.

New Jersey residents are basically split down the middle on whether the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use should be made legal.  Just under half (48%) support this and an almost identical number (47%) oppose it.  These results are similar to a national ABC News/Washington Post Poll conducted in January, which found 49% in favor and 48% opposed.

Democrats – 49% support to 45% oppose – and independents – 51% support to 42% oppose – are slightly more in favor of legalizing marijuana. Republicans, though, are decidedly negative on the idea – 61% oppose it compared to 37% who support legalization.

There are also significant gender and age differences in support for marijuana legalization.  Men (56%) are more likely than women (39%) to support it.  Younger adults under the age of 35 are more likely to support legalizing marijuana (57%) when compared to New Jerseyans age 35 to 54 (45%) or 55 and older (43%).

A bill to legalize marijuana has recently been introduced in the state legislature. Among other things, it would allow people over the age of 21 to purchase small quantities of marijuana for their own use from businesses specially licensed by the state government.  Just 36% of New Jersey residents think this is a good idea while just under half (45%) say it is a bad idea.  Another 18% have no opinion.

“The marijuana debate has been engaged and neither side has the distinct advantage right now,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “There isn’t a lot of support for the Scutari proposal, but most people actually see alcohol and tobacco use as bigger dangers. Perhaps some of the opposition may simply be a reaction against legalizing something that has been illicit for so long.”

When marijuana is compared to alcohol, most New Jerseyans (59%) say alcohol use is more dangerous than marijuana (18%), with another 19% volunteering that both are equally dangerous.  The results are nearly identical for tobacco products.  Most New Jerseyans (58%) say tobacco use is more dangerous than marijuana (21%), with another 18% volunteering that both are equally dangerous.  Democrats, Republicans, and independents all agree that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than marijuana.  The New Jersey numbers are also similar to findings from a national CNN/ORC poll taken in January – specifically, more dangerous substance: alcohol (73%), marijuana (12%), equal (14%);  tobacco (64%), marijuana (23%), equal (12%).

Still, New Jerseyans are divided on how serious a problem marijuana use is today.  Just over half say it is either a very (21%) or moderately (31%) serious problem while just under half say it either not too serious (26%) or not really a problem at all (20%).  The 52% in New Jersey who think it is a very or moderately serious problem and the 46% who think it is less of a problem are similar national public opinion poll results of 51% and 49%, respectively, as measured by CNN/ORC in January.

Garden State Democrats are divided on whether marijuana use is a very or moderately serious problem (50%) or less of a problem (48%).  Independents are less likely to think it is a very or moderately serious problem (45%) and somewhat more likely to think it isn’t a significant problem (52%).  Most Republicans, though, think marijuana use today is a very or moderately serious problem (68%), with few saying it is not a serious problem (32%).

The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll also examined a few aspects of the bill recently introduced in the state legislature.  Public opinion of the proposal is not impacted by the fact that marijuana possession would still be illegal under federal law.  Only 15% of those surveyed said knowing this makes them less likely to support legalization in New Jersey and, in fact, 9% would be more likely to support it.  Overall, 75% say that the federal law has no impact on their opinion of legalizing marijuana in New Jersey.

The proposed legislation would use most of the taxes raised from marijuana sales for transportation projects.  This has slightly more of a positive than negative impact, although 64% say this aspect of the bill doesn’t change their mind.  Among the rest, 24% say they are more likely to support legalizing marijuana in New Jersey if most of the proceeds went to transportation projects while 12% say this would make them less likely to support it.

On both of these aspects – federal law and transportation funding – there is very little impact on people who are undecided about the current legislative proposal.  In most cases, these issues just serve to strengthen the support of those already in favor of marijuana legalization and similarly strengthen the disapproval of those already opposed.

Just over one third (36%) of those polled say they have tried marijuana.  Men (46%) are more likely than women (26%) to report this, but there are no significant differences by age or political party.

The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by telephone with 803 New Jersey adults from March 30 to April 1, 2014.  This sample has a margin of error of + 3.5 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the Asbury Park Press and its sister publications (Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).

Monmouth Poll: New Jerseyans split on pot legalization