"Not in My Backyard" in Madison, NJ
When I tell people that I’m a communications strategist focused on amplifying accurate messaging about cannabis to undo the damage done by a century of false narratives for the New Jersey cannabis community, I get a variety of different responses. Sometimes I hear, “Who cares about who can and can’t smoke weed? Like everyone knows someone that does it. It’s just a bunch of stoners. What’s the big deal?”
The highly problematic stigma (no pun intended) about who uses cannabis is the big deal. (Well, one of the big deals.) The 12/6/22 opinion piece, “LETTER: Madison resident questions council on medical marijuana application” in the Madison Eagle, a local newspaper owned by the New Jersey Hills Media Group, is a shining example of the big deal that happened to catch my eye today.
Full disclosure: I know little about the specifics involved and referenced in the letter to the editor. I arrive at this bit of written commentary with some basic, general impressions about Madison, New Jersey. In some ways, my limited knowledge of Madison and the municipal characteristics is beneficial, as I’m not burdened with preconceived notions or influencing bias. That prompted me to go to the numbers.
Before heading there, though, I’d like to point out the specific sentences that caught my eye in the letter.
As stated in the letter -
“A medical marijuana dispensary is a bad idea for Madison for many reasons -- crime, security, traffic, safety to name a few.”
“Good idea for New Jersey but "not in my backyard."”
“Can you explain how a marijuana dispensary in Madison is in the best interest of Madison?”
There’s so much to explore in these THREE sentences. But, in the interest of time, I’ll distill down to one concluding sentence. To me, these three sentences about a proposed medical facility indicate an alarming lack of accurate information, a powerful bias about the people associated with cannabis, and a severely uninformed, biased position. That’s what drove me to the numbers, to see what I could learn about Madison and how that stacks up with the primary purpose of this letter. (Spoiler: this wasn’t the only letter/ coverage about cannabis recently published on this online news site.)
According to the 2010 Census*, the data below paints a picture of Madison. Could I go much deeper into data analysis? Absolutely. But, for these purposes, I’ll stick to a quick, high-level look at the numbers. For comparison, I listed the statewide 2010 census numbers in parenthesis, when available.
15,845 people (8,791,894), 5,485 households (3,397,156)
Median household income was $106,070 ($67,681)
Racial makeup was:
Black or African American
Two or more races
Hispanic or Latino
4.3% of the population were below the poverty line (10.3%)
Also, not included on the Wikipedia page but available through a quick online search, research indicated that there are 5 liquor stores in Madison within the 4.33 square miles of the borough. (While direct comparisons between cannabis and alcohol are often ill-advised, it is a benchmark regulated market consideration. That’s all.)
So, what can we learn by going to the numbers? Madison is a small affluent, predominantly white municipality. While this letter is written from one Madison resident, one might wonder, does this represent the views of other residents? This. This! THIS! This is the big deal . This is why we still have so far to go when it comes to cannabis education AND re-education. Cannabis dispensaries do not result in increased crime nor are they a threat to public safety. It's safe to assume that the opinion explored in this letter is based on what one believes to be true about cannabis and who uses it, even if there's little evidence to support that belief.
While I can’t conclude that this voice is representative of the Madison community, there is compelling news coverage that indicates that it’s not an isolated outlier. Based on my professional experiences, research, and gut, it wouldn’t be shocking to me if this “attitude” was pervasive among more than a handful of Madison residents. This is where the important work needs to start: education + conversation = elucidation. What is encouraging is that local government is pushing forward to explore bringing a medical dispensary to the town.
Lastly, to the residents of Madison, if there’s interest in convening a community conversation to explore reliable and verified facts – facts that can replace fictious claims about crime, security, traffic, safety – I’d be happy to support the discussion. You deserve illuminating historical context and open, genuine dialogue to navigate a complex topic in an effort to reach conclusions based on evidence and truth, not fabrications and stigma-fueled views. That's an essential step in moving beyond the stigma and all the problems associated with it.
*Please note: the 2010 census data was taken from the Madison, NJ Wikipedia page. 2020 data was not available on that page. While Wikipedia has its issues, for this type of data, it tends to be reliable. The numbers shared here mirror the order and format of Wikipedia page/Census information.
Contact Elucidation Strategies for cannabis consulting services.