On the day legal sales of recreational marijuana began in New Jersey, a Stockton University poll showed that a majority of Garden State residents support the new industry, but slightly fewer believe it should be used as an engine to drive tourism.

John Froonjian, director of the university's William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, said 56% of the poll's 640 respondents would be open to a cannabis dispensary opening in their town.

Still, there are some holdouts who disapprove (36%) even though the pastime is now legitimate, and Froonjian said they may have a few specific reasons.

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"Marijuana could be a gateway drug, or concern about health issues of consuming it," he said. "So, I'm not surprised there's still a percentage of people who are not all that happy with this."

According to state data cited by Stockton, New Jersey's hospitality and tourism industry employs 9% of the state workforce, and with that in mind, exactly half (50%) of those surveyed said they would like legal cannabis promoted for tourism purposes.

"They would appreciate if (the state) would offer cannabis-related attractions, such as lounges, restaurants where people could go and consume weed," Froonjian said.

Demographic indicators such as gender, racial and ethnic background, and income level did not vary greatly when it came to who would approve of marijuana sales in their town and who would not, according to Froonjian.

But geography mattered a bit: While Ocean County, which traditionally skews politically conservative, stayed opposed, the state's six southernmost counties combined for 55% approval in the poll.

That region was hit hard economically by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Froonjian, and could be lifted up by tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales, 70% of which has been earmarked for "economically struggling communities most harmed by past marijuana convictions," as Stockton's release said.

Residents may already have an idea of where those funds should specifically be used.

"37% of them, in fact, would like to see the money go to education, and 13% go to social services," Froonjian said.

Respondents were strongly opposed to the unregulated sale of hemp, which is legal, over the counter; 67% disagreed with that arrangement.

And despite much being made of the near-18-month delay between voters approving recreational pot and it finally becoming available — not to mention it coming about in the fifth year of Gov. Phil Murphy's tenure, when it was part of his initial campaign platform — New Jersey residents did not really care about the wait, according to the poll.

Just over 1 in 4 (27%) found the lapse "unacceptable," with 22% finding it reasonable and 50% having no opinion.

Froonjian said that was likely due to the relative disinterest many respondents may have had in actually using cannabis products, feeling they supported it for reasons of tax revenue or social justice.

"They may support the policy and yet personally, not going to ever buy it, not going to consume it, and that's not inconsistent," he said.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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