NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Legalizing marijuana could open a huge source of revenue for the state, but as with any drug, it could also bring serious health consequences, according to professors from various departments at Rutgers University.
Reacting to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) recent introduction of a measure to legalize cannabis on a national level, leaders of the university's diverse disciplines predict the results would be wide-ranging.
New Jersey would likely see a boost to the economy particularly in urban areas, said Lyneir Richardson, executive director of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers Business School.
"My research leads me to believe that legalized cannabis will quickly be a $40 billion-dollar-plus industry. And the local economic impact will be huge," Richardson said. "Entrepreneurs – particularly entrepreneurs of color – can be expected to build businesses on the leading edge of this growth sector, strengthening inner-city neighborhoods," he said.
People could find jobs growing, processing, selling and delivering pot, as well as in ancillary areas of security and irrigation systems, software development and construction of storage space, he said.
Polls show that the majority of residents favor the legalization, according to Ashley Koning, director of the university's Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.
“New Jerseyans are fully on board with completely legalizing the possession and personal use of recreational marijuana - 58 percent to 37 percent, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in October," Koning said.
She said support has built up over the last five decades, and that New Jersey residents are now almost three times as likely to support it as they were in 1971. This marks the first time that the majority is in favor of legalization, Koning said, and most people view legalization as an issue of social justice.
That leads to the question of whether the possession, sale or use of marijuana should ever have been a crime.
"We cannot decide whether given instances of conduct (regarding marijuana use) should be subject to criminal sanctions without investigating the rationales for punishing anyone for anything," said Douglas Husak, a professor of philosophy who specializes in legal issues. "In this case, the justifications for penal liability have never been persuasive," he said.
Only recently has there been a change of attitudes, as "more voters in Democratic states seem to appreciate the inadequacy of the rationales that have been put forward," Husak said.
Yet concerns remain over how marijuana would be used or abused. There are reportedly nearly 60 municipalities in the state that passed a ban or opposition to the drug.
Although pot is the lesser of two evils when compared with opioids, there are still risks, said Lewis Nelson, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
"There are both acute and long-term effects, both medical and psychological, that accrue from the use of cannabis, and while the upside of tax revenue and social justice are hard to ignore, the social and individual consequences, and possibility of injury and addiction, should not be ignored either," Nelson said.
Safety is always an issue when a new drug is introduced to the market and marijuana would not be an exception, said Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center.
"Poison control centers have consistently reported an increase in poison exposures from that drug in adults and children alike. Many of these exposures arise from edible marijuana products, which may look enticing to young children and cause serious consequences," Calello said.
Any laws legalizing the cannabis, she said, should include requirements for warning labels on packaging.
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