What ages, races and gender use cannabis the most, and what kind of impact has the legalization of weed in New Jersey had on people’s lives?
A first-of-its-kind study made public on Monday by the New Jersey State Policy Lab at Rutgers University hopes to answer such questions and provide a starting point for cannabis research.
The report focusing on the impact of legalization on residents’ health, education and safety comes nearly a year after Gov. Phil Murphy signed the new law.
“This is the first study of its kind in New Jersey that assesses cannabis usage among the state’s population,” said Charles Menifield, dean of Rutgers University-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration and the study’s principal investigator in a phone call on Monday.
“… but it’s not the first-of-its-kind in the U.S.,” he said. “Other states do a yearly cannabis assessment in their state every year – Colorado, California, among them.”
A key goal of the report is to track whether the landmark law — officially called the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act — is living up to its promise of social justice by helping to make Black and brown communities whole again by decreasing arrests for minor marijuana offenses.
“This report is critical to New Jersey setting a model similar to other states in recognizing that all people in the state are not the same, and by legalizing cannabis, its impact on different communities is going to vary,” said Menifield. “(People) should care about this study because it’s going to have ramifications on healthcare outcomes, educational outcomes and public safety.”
Menifield said the study provides a baseline for future research so a comparative analysis over time can be made to help shape state policy.
“If you want to know the real impact of anything, you have to start from a point in time,” he said. “This study examines factors that are salient to cannabis usage. So someone next year, or two years from now, or another point in time, can take our data and say, `This was happening in 2020, and this is (what it) looked like in 2022.”
The data data includes a hard look at cannabis legalization’s impact on law enforcement patterns. The study shows a snapshot of present-day usage and law-enforcement measures across age, racial, and gender lines.
Some of the most glaring racial disparities occurred within the legal system, according to the study. The number of Black residents arrested for selling marijuana was more than five times higher than white residents. Black residents were four times as likely to be arrested for possession.
There’s a need for more detailed reporting regarding social justice — especially among law enforcement metrics, Menifield said.
The Rutgers study also gauges youth attitudes toward marijuana — from medical and behavioral health factors to learning and social adjustment. Among the issues being examined include suicide rates, number of people entering treatment facilities for marijuana addiction, and graduation and college matriculation rates in light of cannabis legalization.
When comparing truancy rates from 2016 to 2018, Black students were suspended at a rate more than two times higher than other groups and compared to white students, they missed more than twice as many school days due to suspension, based on the report’s wealth of data.
“The disparities in exclusionary discipline practices is really important to highlight for students of color,” said Vandeen Campbell, an assistant research professor with the Rutgers-Newark Department of Urban Education and Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies, who also worked on the study.
“We don’t know if legalization will be related to these rates in any way — we’ll have to study it — but that is certainly something that needs to be changed and needs to be monitored.”
The unique study emphasizes the importance of nuanced statewide research to understand the full scope of legalizing cannabis, said Menifield.
“In the years to come, it is absolutely necessary for the state to do a deeper dive into cannabis usage,” said Menifield. “Cannabis is legal, but we want to make sure that we exercise due diligence in ensuring the safety of residents.’’
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