New Jersey Lawmakers Set Forth Plan for Legalizing Marijuana
Eight New Jersey lawmakers recently took a trip to Colorado to learn about the impact that legalized recreational marijuana had on that state’s government, economy, and public safety. After the trip, New Jersey Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney declared that he sees legalizing marijuana as a “game-changer” for job creation in New Jersey. Touting Colorado’s success with legalizing recreational marijuana, Sweeney further stated 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, recreational possession and use of marijuana is illegal in New Jersey. In fact, under the New Jersey 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 crime of the fourth degree (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(5)).
However, the New Jersey Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (“CUMMA”), N.J.S.A. 24:6I-1 et seq. authorizes the possession and use of marijuana to treat or alleviate pain associated with specific debilitating medical conditions in accordance with certifications by the patient’s physicians. CUMMA defines debilitating medical conditions 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).
NJ lawmakers have identified five steps that must be taken in order for New Jersey to make the leap from permissible medical marijuana to legalization of recreational marijuana:
- Introduce a new legalization bill that borrows from Colorado’s best ideas and learns from its mistakes.
- Enlist more public support.
- Recruit support from the top leaders in the state legislature.
- Elect a new governor.
- Hope the president and the U.S. Justice Department do not interfere.
The last two steps note two existing hurdles to legalizing marijuana in New Jersey because Governor Chris Christie has repeatedly reiterated his position that he will not legalize marijuana or decriminalize marijuana possession. Moreover, although states like Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana, the fact remains that marijuana is illegal under federal law as a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). As a result, the federal government could always choose to initiate stricter enforcement of federal drug laws that apply to marijuana.