Charles E. Menifield

While the legalization of recreational marijuana will benefit state finances, policy-makers must consider potential negative externalities associated with the sale of legalized marijuana. In a forthcoming report funded by the New Jersey Policy Lab, researchers determined that marijuana usage in New Jersey is very similar to usage across the US. For example, as in the US as a whole, 54% of users are men (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archives 2021).  Also mirroring results across the country, the New Jersey data indicated that marijuana usage for adults 26 years of age and older increased between 2016 and 2019, while usage decreased for those 18 to 25 years of age. Similar to the national trend, reports of prior year marijuana use in New Jersey rose from roughly 70,000 youth (ages 12 to 17) in 2017 to 78,000 in 2019.

Total arrests for sale/production of cannabis in New Jersey (less than 5,000) were relatively low and stable when compared to arrests for possession (about 270,000) for the 2010-2019 period. Notably, the number of arrests for white users outnumbered arrests of black users by more than 5,000 arrests each year from 2010 to 2017.[1] However, the difference between arrests of white and black users was just 3,000 in 2019 (Uniform Crime Report 2021). The arrest rate for selling cannabis was essentially the same for white and black New Jersey residents throughout the ten-year period (2010-19). The researchers also noted a marked increase in the number of cannabis-related arrests for possession among those aged 21 and older — from roughly 12,000 arrests in 2010 to 20,000 in 2019 (Uniform Crime Report 2021).

Notably, the number of persons 12 years and older in New Jersey admitted into health care facilities for marijuana use decreased over the 2015-2018 period (TEDS 2021). Despite an increase in arrests for younger adults (18-20), the number of older adults (26-50) admitted to treatment facilities increased from 2015 to 2018 while admissions for those aged 12-25 decreased (TEDS 2021). The US trend followed the same pattern. In contrast to national data, similar numbers of black and white marijuana users were admitted into health care facilities in New Jersey.

Examining educational outcomes in New Jersey, black youth were suspended at a rate more than twice that of any other group in academic year 2018[2]. This gap widened as suspensions increased in academic year 2019.  Collectively, compared with white students, black students missed more than twice as many days of school due to suspensions in academic years 2016 and 2018. Focusing on incidents reported in New Jersey schools between 2011 and 2019, the third highest reported infraction was “substances,” after “violence” and “bullying and intimidation,” (New Jersey Educational Statistics 2021). Of note, “substance” incidents in New Jersey schools increased dramatically — from 2,500 in academic year 2018 to 4,000 in 2019. Legalization may lead to more suspensions.

Youth arrests for marijuana offenses have decreased dramatically in New Jersey: from 4,000 arrests of male youths in 2009 to 2,500 in 2019, (there were few arrests of female students during this entire period) (Uniform Crime Reporting 2021).

Legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey is likely to have an impact on assorted outcomes critical to the well-being of the state. It is incumbent upon policymakers to examine the data in the report closely and to create protocols that will ameliorate the negative impacts of recreational marijuana use on active users and non-users. Doing so will permit the State to successfully regulate the industry while maintaining protocols that protect the citizens of New Jersey.


Civil Rights Data Collection 2021.

Fatality Analysis Reporting System. 2021. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

New Jersey Educational Statistics 2021.

NSDUH, 2021.

Ricciardi, T. and Phillips, N. 2021: Colorado Marijuana Sales Hit $2.2 billion in Highest-selling Year Yet.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archives, 2021. Data collected on November 15, 2021.

TEDS 2021. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set.

Uniform Crime Report, 2021.

[1] The data representing per capita arrests shows that black suspects were arrested at a rate five times that of white suspects in 2010 with slightly lower numbers in 2019 at 4.5%. Black suspects were four times as likely to be arrested as white suspects for possession in 2019. This rate is 1% higher than 2010.

[2] This data point does not consider marijuana-related suspension exclusively, but total suspensions.