TRENTON, N.J. (Dec.4, 2018) Bills that would legalize marijuana for personal use and further nullify federal cannabis prohibition in New Jersey passed a House and Senate committee last week.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and Sen. Stephen Sweeny (D- Gloucester) introduced Senate Bill 2703 (S2703) earlier this summer. A coalition of four Democratic assembly members introduced a companion bill (A4497) last week. The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act would legalize marijuana for personal use by adults. Under the proposed law, it would be legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and consume it at home or in specifically designated areas. The law would also allow for the licensed cultivation and sale of marijuana. It would create a commission to oversee the regulatory and taxing scheme. The bills also include provisions that would expunge marijuana crimes for activities legalized under the new law.
After a rare joint meeting, both bills were approved by their respective committees. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved S2703 by a 7-4 vote. A4497 passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee by a 7-3 margin.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has expressed support for legalizing marijuana, but he has not committed to supporting this specific legislation, saying only, that he’s ” “encouraged that it’s moving in the right direction.”
Sweeny serves as Senate president. He said he would not move S2703 to the Senate floor until he has firm support from the governor.
Another bill (S10) that would expand the state’s limited medical marijuana program also advanced in the Senate last week. The bill would increase the monthly medical marijuana cap from 2 ounces to 3 ounces, legalize edible medical marijuana for adults, and jump-start the permitting process for new medical marijuana dispensaries, manufacturers and cultivators.
New Jersey legalized medical marijuana in 2010. The program languished under Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch opponent of cannabis. Gov. Murphy loosened requirements and expanded the number of qualifying medical conditions. According to the Observer, the state added 4,200 people to its medicinal cannabis program since he took office. Passage of S10 would expand the program further.
Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as these remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the feds maintain complete prohibition of cannabis. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes removes layers of laws prohibiting the possession and use of the plant, but federal prohibition will remain on the books. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, Texas essentially sweeps away much of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
Expanding the state’s medical marijuana program or legalizing cannabis for personal use would further nullify federal prohibition.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
On Nov. 6th, multiple states passed ballot measures for medical marijuana, with Missouri becoming the 33rd state to do so. Michigan voters expanded on their long-standing medical market by approving a measure to legalize for recreational purposes.
With this many states allowing cannabis, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore. As noted in a 2015 Tenth Amendment Center video, the states are winning this battle with the federal government:
“Even in face of increasing federal enforcement measures, the states found the winning path. It’s only a matter of time before they overwhelm federal enforcement capabilities completely, and the feds will have to act like they’ve decided to drop the issue just to save face.”
S10 and S2703 will now move to the Senate floor for a vote. A4497 will head to the Assembly floor.