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EDITORIAL: Legalization of marijuana poses new concerns for college students

The legalization of weed in New Jersey means that some students will now be able to smoke to their heart's content, but there are still details to iron out.  – Photo by Pixy.org

This April 20, stoners across New Jersey will rejoice as they pull out their lighters and prepare to spend an ungodly amount of money on snacks in the middle of the night. After years of apprehension, marijuana was legalized in New Jersey by Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), opening the door to the recreational usage of the substance to all over 21. 

This landmark decision was celebrated not only due to the many highs it sparked but also because it marked the end to at least one segment of the war on drugs.

This domestic war targeted the Black and Brown communities in our state and more often than not centralized on impoverished communities. "In New Jersey, Black residents are more than three times as likely as white residents to be charged with marijuana possession, in spite of similar rates of usage,” according to The New York Times.

The legalization of marijuana means that the criminal justice system will have one less tool to hold over the heads of vulnerable populations. Nonetheless, there is still one window that allows for punishing weed-smokers: the 18 to 21-year-old range. 

This strange age gap both abandons juvenile records while also not granting you all the liberties of adulthood, leaves courts in the awkward position of punishing someone as an adult for not being old enough to smoke legally. As teenagers, the punishment for smoking starts off as a warning, but as soon as you turn 18, you are subjected to fines or other penalties.

The absurdity of classifying 18 to 21-year-olds differently when it comes to substance usage stems from the valid claim that our young brains are still taking shape and the influence that substances could substantially impact on development. That said, there is evidence that our brains actually finish developing around the age of 26. So should government officials be fining and arresting 25-year-olds for having a beer? 

The punishments for underage drinking in New Jersey can be as severe as imprisonment because nothing is better for your mental health than having your basic liberties taken away because you had a few too many shots. The punishments facing young weed smokers are now less severe, ranging from citations to fines to community service.

Even if the punishments for 18 to 21-year-olds are reduced, we cannot allow young adults, especially those from historically targeted communities, to bear additional burdens for something as inconsequential as weed usage — burdens that their peers over 21 do not have to face.

In the meantime, Rutgers has to address marijuana usage by those students who are over 21. It would make sense to allow students who can legally smoke to do so on campus, given that it is done outdoors. The effects of secondhand smoke are not limited to cigarettes, and no roommate should be subjected to the effects (or the smell).

While the probability of designated weed-smoking corners in the quadrangles of Rutgers is low, it would be ideal. Of course, marijuana usage by ingestion would not pose this same problem. 

Of course, we must be careful when using any type of mind-altering substance (be that alcohol or weed), as the effects can be dangerous when abused. Likewise, we need to be cautious about the way substance use affects those around us. 

As students of varying ages, the policy surrounding marijuana directly affects us and our peers. We must pay attention to the policy that will come out of the New Jersey General Assembly that outlines punishment for underage usage, treatment of communities of color and equal access to sale rights.

We are the first generation of New Jerseyans that will have the benefit of legalized weed, and as a result, we must make sure that the laws surrounding legalized marijuana users do not unfairly target specific groups, be it by age or by race. 

Keep an eye on the policy at Rutgers too and make sure that your right to use marijuana is not unreasonably restricted. At the end of the day, legalization is a good thing, but there is still plenty of work to be done and it has to be done right. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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