New Jersey Lawmakers Need to Get With the Times on Cannabis

Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of cannabis for adult recreational use.
Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of cannabis for adult recreational use. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

New Jersey lawmakers who oppose cannabis legalization probably still drive gas-guzzling cars, eat greasy fast food and chain-smoke cigarettes. Odds are they don’t use social media, and if they send text messages, the bubble is green! These lawmakers are, indeed, living in another America that the rest of us study in history class.

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In 1969, just 12.5 percent of Americans favored legalized marijuana. In 2019, according to a recent General Social Survey, 76 percent of Democrats now say they favor legalization, while 54 percent of Republicans support it. Riding a wave of public support, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of cannabis for adult recreational use. New Jersey was poised to join that list, only to fall a few votes short.

New Jersey Slow to Evolve

While New Jersey may be considered a “blue” state, it is actually middle-of-the-road blue. Even though Democrats dominate the state, there are greater philosophical differences within the dysfunctional Democratic family than there are more broadly between Democrats and Republicans in the state.

New Jersey legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, but it took nearly a decade to get to that point. In 2004, the state enacted the New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act, which granted limited rights to registered domestic partners. Two years later, in Lewis v. Harris, the N.J. Supreme Court ruled that the N.J. Constitution mandated that the state afford the privileges and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. The court ordered the legislature to allow either same-sex marriage or civil unions. Only then did the legislature approve a bill to legalize civil unions.

In 2012, the state legislature passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. However, they did not have enough votes to make it veto-proof. It took a court decision one year to convince Gov. Chris Christie to end his opposition to same-sex marriage. Just two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling that made it legal across the country.

Same-sex marriage is not the only issue where New Jersey lawmakers have been slow to evolve. And it is not just limited to social issues. One key example is driverless vehicles. There are 5.5 million traffic collisions in the United States every year, of which 81 percent are attributable to human error. Given the statistics, some proponents of autonomous vehicles predict that crashes could decrease by as much as 90 percent. In March, New Jersey created an autonomous vehicle task force. It’s about time. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 states have already enacted legislation associated with autonomous vehicles.

Embracing Cannabis vs. Fighting History

Fortunately for New Jersey, we now have a 21st century governor who wears Allbirds shoes, uses social media and is totally comfortable texting constituents. Despite an old-thinking legislature, Governor Phil Murphy keeps pushing his agenda that recognizes the need to increase the state’s tax revenue and finally do something about mass transit and the state’s crumbling infrastructure.  Legalizing cannabis helps accomplish these things and, at the same time, reduces the burden on the courts and the jails for a minor criminal offense that should never have been a criminal charge in the first place.

On the national level, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.Y.) is one of the few politicians who hasn’t been afraid to speak out in favor of cannabis legalization. He has introduced national legislation that would decriminalize marijuana across the country. The Marijuana Justice Act would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and, thereby, make it legal on the federal level.

New Jersey state legislators, particularly the Democrats, should follow Murphy’s and Booker’s examples and lead the nation into the 21st century. Those who don’t support legalization of cannabis label themselves as out of touch with their constituency and show that they are sadly out of date with American life.

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Scarinci Hollenbeck—read his full bio here.

New Jersey Lawmakers Need to Get With the Times on Cannabis