Category Archives: marijuana

NJ Residents Support Legalizing, Taxing, Regulating Marijuana

While we are now on our typical academic summer hiatus, today we are releasing results of some polling we did in April on the legalization of marijuana. These questions were part of our last Rutgers-Eagleton poll, but because we were working with a partner, the NJ Chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance, we had not released them before. The results show continuing support in NJ for changing the status of marijuana. As we showed in April 2014, most NJ residents support at least reducing or eliminating penalties for using the drug. The newest poll asks the question a little differently, about support for legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and over. That provides significant context; as a result we find overall that 58% support this, significantly higher than last year’s 49% who supported “completely legalizing” marijuana.

The Drug Policy Alliance involvement came through an undergraduate survey research class taught by ECPIP Director and professor of political science, David Redlawsk this past semester. In the class, students work with non-profits and interest groups on developing, fielding, and analyzing survey questions, which are added to a standard NJ statewide Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. DPA is an advocacy group, favoring legalization of marijuana. However, while their staff worked with the students to identify the topic for their questions, the final decision on the questions rested, as it always does, with professional ECPIP staff, in order to ensure that the questions asked were done in accordance with best practices to minimize potential bias. As always, we release the full text of the questions so that you can decide for yourself.

The text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the text, questions, and tables.



NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A clear majority of New Jerseyans supports legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and over, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released today. Just under one-third of residents strongly support making marijuana use legal, assuming it would be taxed and regulated, while another 26 percent somewhat support the idea. Twelve percent are somewhat opposed while 27 percent are strongly opposed.

An April 2014 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll found that while about two-thirds in New Jersey favored eliminating marijuana possession penalties, just 49 percent supported “completely legalizing” the drug.

“The trend in New Jersey mirrors the nation as support for legalizing marijuana continues to grow,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “The question we asked this year is more specific than in the past, specifying that legalization would come with taxes and regulation and would apply to adults 21 and over. That likely accounts for some of the jump from 49 percent support a year ago to 58 percent today. But no matter how it is asked, we have seen a long-term upward trend in support.”

Most New Jerseyans do not consider legalization a priority. While 20 percent call legalization of marijuana a “very important” issue, more than twice as many Garden State residents (45 percent) say it is “not very important.” The rest are in the middle, with 22 percent calling this issue “somewhat important” and 12 percent saying it is “somewhat unimportant”.

New Jersey state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union) has introduced a bill legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults. Senate Bill 1896 and its companion in the Assembly, sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon and Mercer) and Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union) create a system similar to Colorado’s, with marijuana regulated like alcohol at every step of the production and sales process.

“More than 22,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010 at a cost of more than $125 million dollars,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “But this poll shows a significant majority of New Jerseyans believe in changing this policy so marijuana can be legally taxed and regulated for adults, the same as alcohol.”

The questions about marijuana were developed in consultation with the NJ office of the Drug Policy Alliance. The marijuana support question was the subject of an experiment where some respondents were randomly prompted that marijuana would be regulated “like alcohol,” while others were not. Analyses show that the variation in the question made no significant difference; accordingly this release reports on both versions combined.

Results are from a statewide poll of 860 residents contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones from Mar. 27 – Apr. 3, 2015, with a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were completed in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Democrats, independents, millennials strongest supporters

While there are no differences between men and women, or by race in support for legalizing marijuana, there is a noticeable split between Democrats and Republicans. More than six-in-ten Democrats support legalization (39 percent strongly and 25 percent somewhat), but just 41 percent of Republicans agree, with only 18 percent of GOPers strongly supporting the idea. Nearly half of New Jersey Republicans (46 percent) strongly oppose marijuana legalization, double the strong opposition from Democrats. In general, opinions of independents are much closer to those of Democrats than Republicans, with 33 percent strongly and 28 percent somewhat backing legalization.

“Differences between Democrats and Republicans are highly predictable,” said Redlawsk. “But this version of the question – legalizing, taxing, and regulating for adult use – garners much more GOP support than we saw a year ago when we asked about ‘completely legalizing’ marijuana. Then only 28 percent of Republicans agreed; here it is 41 percent. Providing detailed context seems to make much more of a difference to Republicans than Democrats.”

Age also matters: senior citizens are about half as likely as other New Jersey residents to strongly support legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana (at 18 percent), and are the most likely to oppose it (13 percent somewhat, 38 percent strongly). Millennials – residents who are 18 to 34 years old – are most likely to show strong support (at 38 percent), though middle-aged New Jerseyans are not far behind, with about one-third of those aged 35 to 64 also strongly supportive of change. Millennials also show the least strong opposition by far of any other age group: just 18 percent oppose, compared to a quarter or more of every other age group. As with other issues, such as same-sex marriage, younger residents are very different from those of the Baby Boom generation.

Issue very important to both strongest supporters and opponents

While a plurality thinks marijuana legalization is not very important, residents with the strongest feelings, whether pro or con, are much more likely to consider the issue very important. One-half of strong opponents of legalization see the issue as very or somewhat important, while 62 percent of residents who strongly support legal marijuana say the same. Those who do not feel strongly about legalization in either direction see the issue as far less important: only about 22 percent of these Garden Staters think legalization is a very or somewhat important issue.

“For many New Jerseyans, the issue is not high on their radar, but for strong supporters and opponents, it really registers,” noted Redlawsk. “This is one reason why laws related to marijuana are tending to lag behind public opinion, as strong supporters and opponents are equally balanced and seem equally motivated, while most other New Jerseyans stay in the background.”

New Jerseyans: Use tax revenue for education

Advocates for legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana regularly emphasize that tax revenue from the sale of marijuana could generate millions of dollars to fund projects across New Jersey. Four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington) and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana.

Given a list of uses for new revenue that might come from legalization, 36 percent of residents say education should be the top priority, while 20 percent would first dedicate new revenue to drug treatment programs. Transportation infrastructure comes third, with 15 percent making it a top priority; nine percent would focus on social services, and three percent on corrections and prisons.

There are large racial disparities in preferences for revenue allocation. Almost half of non-white residents – 46 percent – would prefer funds go to education, compared to 30 percent of white residents. On the other hand, non-white residents are less than half as likely as white residents to mention transportation and social services.

While partisans of all stripes agree education should be the top priority, Democrats are most likely to say this, as well as to mention social services. Republicans are just a few points more likely than others to allocate revenue to transportation. Men and women are mostly on the same page, but men are slightly more likely to prefer transportation funding, while women are almost twice as likely to identify social services as the priority.

Education funding is the overwhelming priority with Millennials – at 54 percent – while other age groups are more evenly divided between the options. Seniors are the most likely to say revenue should go to drug treatment programs (31 percent).

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One great thing about the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll is that there is so much history recorded over the past 43 years the poll has been around. Today we tap into that history as we look at current attitudes toward marijuana legalization in New Jersey, looking back to 1972 when we first polled on the issue. We did something similar in 2011, in celebration of our 40th anniversary, but the recent talk about full legalization of pot made us think we should look again. And, to their credit, a group of students in Dave Redlawsk’s Public Opinion Class argued for the topic as well.

Our findings show that support for loosening the reins on recreational marijuana continues to grow, and at the same time, partisan differences on the issue are getting larger. A fascinating aspect of looking back to 1972 is finding that Democrats and Republicans were not very far apart on the issue back then; about 4 points separated the two groups of partisans, and neither was particularly supportive. In fact it was independents who were most supportive of lessened marijuana penalties in 1972. But fast forward to 2014, and the differences are stark, as they are for many other issues. A majority of both Democrats and independents now favors complete legalization, while just 28 percent of Republicans agree. Republican opinions on the issue have changed little over the years, while Democrats and independents have become much more supportive.

Click here for a PDF of the full release with text, questions, and tables.

The text of the release follows.


Attitudes Increasingly Divided by Partisanship in Recent Years

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – With the 1960s and 70s drug counterculture a hazy memory for most New Jerseyans, voters in the state have become more laid back than ever about marijuana, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. With recreational marijuana legalization becoming a hot topic across the nation, two-thirds of voters here now say penalties for use should be reduced. This compares to 58 percent of voters in a November 2011 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, and 40 percent of adults in a May 1972 report. Only 29 percent now oppose the relaxation of marijuana use penalties.

Attitudes toward marijuana possession show a similar pattern over the past four decades. In 1972, 34 percent of adults supported the elimination of all penalties for the possession of small amounts, while 56 percent were opposed. Today it is reversed: 65 percent of voters now support eliminating marijuana possession penalties, while 33 percent remain opposed.

In light of societal changes and apparent success in Colorado with legalization, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari introduced a bill in the Legislature to legalize the sale and use of marijuana. But despite strong support for reduced penalties, legalization gets much weaker support: 49 percent agree with complete legalization and 48 percent disagree. Even so, this is a 14-point rise from 2011 and a 28-point difference from adults of 42 years ago.

“New Jersey voters reflect the national trend toward less severe attitudes about marijuana,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “During the 1970s and into 1981, there was some movement on the issue, but little policy change, so we didn’t poll on it again for 30 years. When we finally asked again about marijuana in 2011, we saw signs of liberalization, a trend that has only accelerated since then.”

While Colorado appears to have raked in new tax revenue from legalizing pot, New Jersey voters are split over whether the possibility of more money for the state coffers should lead to making the drug legal here. A quarter of voters strongly agree that the potential for significant state revenue is a good reason to legalize the drug, while another quarter somewhat agree. But 19 percent somewhat disagree and 27 percent strongly disagree with this proposition.

Results are from a statewide poll of 816 New Jersey adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from March 31 to April 6, 2014. This release reports on a subsample of 731 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.

Support from Democrats grows; Republicans much less so

While support for marijuana decriminalization has increased dramatically, the divide between political partisans has also grown. In 1972, Democrats and Republicans held similar views: about 40 percent of each party agreed with reducing penalties for pot use, while 53 percent of independents were in favor. By 2011, 64 percent of Democratic voters and 58 percent of independents supported penalty reductions, but just only 44 percent of Republicans agreed.

Current GOP preferences continue to show little change. Forty-six percent support reduced penalties, 47 percent are opposed. Meanwhile, Democratic and independent support has grown to 75 percent and 69 percent, respectively. “We think of Democrats as liberal on social issues, but 40 years ago they didn’t look much different from Republicans on pot use,” noted Redlawsk. “But as Republicans maintained the status quo, Democrats moved strongly in favor of reducing penalties, increasing the gap between them from four points in 1972 to 28 points today.”

Republicans show more change on eliminating possession penalties (12 points over 42 years), although they remain staunchly opposed and increasingly different from Democrats and independents. In 1972, 29 percent of GOP adults, 38 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of independents supported decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug. This nine-point gap between the two parties doubled in 2011, when 42 percent of Republican voters and 60 percent of Democrats supported decriminalization. Support among independents grew 11 points stronger.

Today, 74 percent of Democrats voters – nearly double the share in 1972 – want to see possession penalties dropped, versus just 41 percent of Republicans. Only 24 percent of Democrats are opposed, compared to 56 percent of Republicans. Democrats have also caught up to the 71 percent of independent voters who support decriminalization.

In keeping with broader trends, New Jersey voters of all partisan leanings show increased support for completely legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana, although to greatly varying degrees. For the first time, more than half of Democratic and independent voters support legalization, with Democratic support almost tripling since 1972, when only 21 percent of Democratic adults agreed with making pot legal. Between 2011 and 2014, support increased by 17 points.

While 30 percent of independent adults supported legalization 1972, by 2011 the number was still only 37 percent of independent voters. Since then, their support has climbed to 53 percent.
Republican support has doubled over four decades from 14 percent to 28 percent. However, 69 percent of GOP voters today remain against legalization, and the gap between the parties on fully legal pot has quadrupled since 1972 to 29 points.

Generation gap on pot has shrunk, except for legalization

The large generation gap on marijuana decriminalization and penalties from 40 years ago has all but disappeared, except on the question of full legalization. In 1972, two-thirds of adults in their twenties supported reduced penalties for marijuana use versus 24 percent of those 60 and older. That under-30 cohort – now in their 60s and 70s – is even more supportive now, at 72 percent of voters. Meanwhile, 70 percent of today’s millennial voters (18- to 34-years-old) approve decreased penalties, about the same share as their long-ago peers. What was once a 42-point gap between younger and older generations has all but vanished.

More than 60 percent of voters in nearly all age groups support removing possession penalties today, closing age differences that were still apparent in 2011, and were even larger in 1972. But those who were over age 30 in 1972 and are now at least 72 are far less supportive.

Full legalization is a somewhat different story. In 1972, New Jerseyans under age 30 were more likely to favor full legalization than those over 60 that year, 44 percent to 10 percent. Some of this generation gap remains visible today. As 1972’s under youngest residents have aged, their cohort’s opinions have changed very little: 48 percent of today’s voters, 60 to 72, support full legal access to marijuana. Meanwhile the youngest 2014 voters are even stronger supporters, 61 percent to 39 percent. The result is a 13-point generation gap, less than half of what it was 42 years ago.

Mimicking younger voters, more than half of 50 to 64-year olds support legalization. But more in line with today’s seniors, voters who mostly came of age in the Reagan-Bush years (now ages 35 to 49) are more likely to oppose (52 percent) than support (44 percent) legalization of recreational marijuana. “It is pretty clear that the changes we are seeing on marijuana attitudes are less about changing minds than about changing times,” said Redlawsk. “As younger cohorts became adults, they have simply had more liberal attitudes than the older voters they replaced.”

Marijuana sales as tax revenue

Despite support for decriminalization, voters here are clearly split on following in Colorado’s footsteps and fully legalizing the drug with an eye toward the potential for increased state revenue from taxes on its sales. Six in 10 Democrats say they at least somewhat agree with the financial rationale for legalization, as do more than half of independents. Two-thirds of Republicans disagree; most feel strongly. Millennials are much more likely than older voters to agree with legalizing marijuana for tax revenue. More than two-thirds who support reduced penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana also support legalizing the drug for revenue purposes. Among all those favoring complete legalization, 86 percent support the financial rationale for doing so.

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