By Shaun Chornobroff
Micah Rasmussen, the director of Rider’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, has been involved in the New Jersey political landscape since he graduated from Rider in 1992. The political science professor organizes his classes to be a hub for political conversation with the party lines that often split local politics represented in his classroom.
Yet in recent years, students in his classroom bipartisanly agreed to the recreational legalization of marijuana, something that went into effect in New Jersey for those 21 and older on April 21.
“I would say it’s pretty rare to see a student who is opposed to legalization at this point and that’s probably been the case for a long time,” Rasmussen said poignantly. “Students always saw the benefit of legalization and always saw the futility of having [marijuana] criminalized and wanted to have that change.”
Rasmussen helped grow an annual event called Model Congress more than 30 years ago where high school students come to Rider, pitch different bills and simulate the process of making it a law.
“When I started running Model Congress, [legalization] was very much a fringe idea, it was very much a student idea, it was very much a pipe dream,” Rasmussen said before clarifying there was no intention of a pun in the quote. “… Year after year, decade after decade, advocates kept chipping away and they won over public opinion.”
Despite being legal in the state of New Jersey, marijuana is still prohibited on Rider’s campus.
Section 5.2 of the university’s Student Code of Conduct notes “although New Jersey state law permits the use and/or cultivation of recreational marijuana in limited circumstances, federal laws prohibit such use, possession and/or cultivation. Accordingly, the use, possession, and/or cultivation of marijuana (recreational, medicinal or otherwise) is a violation of the section.”
Sarah Trocchio, an assistant professor teaching courses in sociology and criminology, has been studying the effects of marijuana in American society for more than a decade.
Trocchio expects to see “some really great economic gains” as a result of legalization in the state as well as plenty of job opportunities. ZenLeaf, a company who owns marijuana dispensaries around the nation, has a location in Lawrence, less than four miles away from Rider’s campus.
Trocchio is hoping to bring job opportunities in the blossoming industry to the Rider community with the four course certificate she helped pioneer in Cannabis Studies. The certificate is designed to educate interested students as well as give them a pathway into the industry.
“The legal cannabis industry is one the fastest growing sectors in the entire U.S. economy, and states where legalization is occurring now, like NJ, are primed for incredible employment opportunities,” Trocchio said. “Our cannabis certificate program is going to provide interested students with the terminology and concepts necessary to apply their other skills to this niche economy, to connect with others doing the same, and to network with industry insiders teaching and guest lecturing in the program.”
In her time studying the societal effects of marijuana, past and present, Trocchio has seen the landscape and negative aura surrounding the product start to differ.
“I think we are very much still in the process of stereotypes and opinions changing, though in general, we’re seeing more curiosity and excitement around various ways to consume cannabis, and the ability of folks to really curate their experience as to what it means to use the substance,” Trocchio said. “With a rapidly expanding choice of products, from tinctures, to gummies, and topicals, I think that provides the opportunity to revisit and even challenge previous assumptions about what it means to consume cannabis far beyond traditional ideas of ‘smoking weed.’”