NJ Lawmakers Have Plan to Legalize Marijuana
Eight NJ lawmakers recently went to Colorado to learn about the impact of legalized recreational marijuana on that state’s government, economy, and public safety. After the visit, NJ Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney noted that he sees legalizing marijuana as a potential “game-changer” for job creation in New Jersey. Touting Colorado’s success with its own legalization of recreational marijuana, Sweeney added that he is “absolutely sold that this industry can be regulated” because “it’s safe, it’s well managed, and Colorado has done an amazing job.”
Currently NJ laws criminalize the recreational possession and use of marijuana in the Garden State. In fact, under the NJ Criminal Code, possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana is a disorderly persons offense (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4)) and possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana is a fourth degree crime (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(5)).
However, the NJ Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (“CUMMA”), N.J.S.A. 24:6I-1 et seq. authorizes the possession and use of marijuana in order to treat or alleviate pain associated with specified debilitating medical conditions in accordance with certifications by the patient’s physicians. CUMMA defines a “debilitating medical condition” as: seizure disorder, including epilepsy; intractable skeletal muscular spasticity; glaucoma; human immunodeficiency virus; acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS); cancer; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; multiple sclerosis; terminal cancer; muscular dystrophy; inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease; terminal illness with a prognosis of less than 12 months of life; and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
New Jersey lawmakers have identified five steps that would need to be taken in order for the state to make the leap from permissible medical marijuana to legalized recreational marijuana:
- Introduce legislation that borrows from Colorado’s best ideas while also learning from its mistakes.
- Enlist additional public support.
- Recruit support from the top leaders in the NJ state legislature.
- Elect a new governor in New Jersey.
- Hope that the president and the U.S. Justice Department do not interfere.
The last two steps note two existing hurdles to the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey because NJ Governor Chris Christie has repeatedly declared his position that he will not legalize marijuana or officially decriminalize marijuana possession. Additionally, although states like Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana, the fact remains that marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). This means that the federal government could always choose to more strictly enforce federal drug laws that apply to marijuana.