If all goes according to plan, legal recreational marijuana will soon be growing in the Garden State. This week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is reportedly meeting with lawmakers to began hashing out the remaining sticking points of the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act,” a bill which passed the State assembly and senate committees in late November. Once amended, the bill is expected to pass a full legislative vote before being signed into law later this year. While a recent Rutgers University poll found 60 percent support for legalization, dozens of local officials aren’t so high on the idea. A coalition of mayors, council members and law enforcement from 45 New Jersey towns have preemptively banned marijuana dispensaries.
The coalition is backed by the Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy, the most powerful anti-marijuana lobbying group in the country, which has targeted local officials with factsheets touting the negative effects of marijuana legalization in states like Colorado.
“If you legalize recreational marijuana, you will see homelessness go up, you will see people losing their jobs, you will see more ‘drugged driving,’ you will see more accidents, and more deaths,” Stephen Reid, executive director of NJ RAMP, told WNYC.
One example cited by RAMP is an 151 percent increased in marijuana-related traffic fatalities in Colorado since 2013. The ACLU has disputed that statistic, saying there is not enough data to determine causality, and pointing out that marijuana’s psychoactive component, THC, stays in the bloodstream for up to 30 days.
Ringwood Police Chief Joe Walker told WNYC that he’s opposed to legal recreational marijuana because he believes it’s a gateway drug that will worsen the opioid crisis.
“I’ve been to opioid overdoses eight times since I’ve been chief,” Walker told NPR. “Every time there’s marijuana present. And every drug counselor would say that everyone started with marijuana.”
However, that’s not what the research shows. For example, in April 2018, the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reported that research on Medicare data found a 14 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions in states that allow easy access to medical marijuana.
A similar study of Medicaid data found that both medical and recreational marijuana legalization “have the potential to reduce opioid prescribing for Medicaid enrollees, a segment of population with disproportionately high risk for chronic pain, opioid use disorder and opioid overdose.”
And according to the American Journal of Public Health, “After Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sale and use, opioid-related deaths decreased more than six percent in the following two years.”
If New Jersey’s legislature votes in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, other local officials will have 180 days to decide whether to allow dispensaries in their town — or opt to be total buzzkills instead.