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Legalize Pot Says a Solid Majority of NJ Residents [AUDIO]

Do you think possession of small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized? Would you be more likely to vote for a politician who supports that? Do you feel pot should be completely legalized?

Medical Marijuana
David McNew, Getty Images

A new poll commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance asked New Jerseyans these questions and a majority says ‘yes’ to all three.

According to the survey, 61 percent support a proposal to make possession of two ounces or less of marijuana a civil violation. Currently, possession of this amount is a criminal offense that carries a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. A conviction also results in a criminal record that cannot be expunged for at least five years.

An overwhelming 82 percent say that they would either be more likely to vote for an elected official who supported reducing penalties for marijuana possession or that it would make no difference in their vote.

Residents of the Garden State appear ready to join a growing contingent of other states that have already decriminalized or otherwise reduced penalties for marijuana possession and many favor going even further. 59 percent of those polled also favor legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana.

What They Are Saying

The polling bolsters calls for reform according to long-time advocates of changing marijuana laws.

“More than 22,000 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010 at a cost of more than $125 million,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “New Jerseyans understand that current penalties for marijuana are unfair and wasteful. These laws should be changed now.”

The poll was conducted by Lake Research Partners.

“New Jersey voters are ready for aggressive and immediate change of state marijuana laws, with strong majorities supporting decriminalizing up to two ounces of marijuana,” says Daniel Gotoff, a partner at Lake Research. “Support for this reform is remarkably broad, including majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans, as well as voters from every major region in the state.”

Existing Legislation

A bill is pending in the legislature that would decriminalize up to two ounces of marijuana and instead make possession a civil violation that carries a simple fine similar to a traffic ticket. The measure is sponsored by State Senators Nick Scutari, Loretta Weinberg and Sandra Cunningham.

Under the legislation, a person who is found to possess 50 grams or less of marijuana would be subject to a $50 civil penalty. If the violation is committed by a person under the age of 18, the person would be referred to the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court for an appropriate disposition.

A person who possesses drug paraphernalia for the personal use of 50 grams or less of marijuana would no longer have committed a criminal offense but would be subject to a $100 civil penalty.

Additionally, this bill would establish that it is no longer a disorderly persons offense to be under the influence of marijuana or to fail to voluntarily deliver 50 grams or less of marijuana to the nearest law enforcement officer. This bill would also eliminate the requirement that a person who operates a motor vehicle while in possession marijuana pay a fine of not less than $50 and forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle for a period of two years if the amount of marijuana in the person’s possession is 50 grams or less.

National Statistics

The latest figures reveal nearly 50 percent of Americans admit to having tried marijuana at some point in their lives.

Fifteen other states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island) have already decriminalized small quantities of marijuana for personal use, in amounts ranging from one half ounce to three ounces.

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