TRENTON, N.J. (May 31, 2019) – Last week, the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill that would expand the state’s medical marijuana program despite federal prohibition.
A coalition of 13 Democrats introduced Assembly Bill 10 (A10) last year. The legislation would expand the state’s medical marijuana program through a number of changes in current law. According to USA Today, the proposed law would “simplify the process for patients to qualify for, purchase and consume cannabis for medicinal purposes.”
On May 23, the Assembly passed A10 by a 65-5 vote.
Under A10, patients would have access to edible forms of cannabis, and the bill would increase the amount of marijuana a patient can purchase each month from two to three ounces. It would allow dispensaries to offer delivery services and set up on-site consumption areas. Under the proposed law, the number of cultivator licenses would increase to 23.
The proposed law would also streamline the process of getting a medical marijuana card. It would authorize physician assistants as well as some nurses to recommend medicinal cannabis, and it would remove a requirement that a patient must maintain a relationship with a doctor for at least one year before getting a medical marijuana card.
Under current law, a medicinal cannabis user must get recertified every 90 days. A10 would establish an annual recertification process.
A10 would also create a process approving designated caregivers.
In addition to the expanded provisions, the bill would create a full-time Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee the addition of new qualifying conditions for patients, issue licenses for dispensaries and oversee enforcement of the medical marijuana laws. The CRC was originally part of the legal weed bill.
This is another example of the rapidly expanding availability of marijuana despite federal prohibition.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis 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.
New Jersey legalized medical marijuana in 2010. The program languished under Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch opponent of cannabis. When Gov. Phil Murphy took office, he loosened requirements and expanded the number of qualifying medical conditions.
This removed one layer of laws prohibiting marijuana in the stare, but federal prohibition remains in place. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most 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.
Passage of A10 would further undermine prohibition and make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in New Jersey.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
New Jersey is one of a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Along with Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act. and Michigan passed a ballot measure legalizing cannabis for general use.
With 33 states including New Jersey allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
Efforts to expand medical marijuana laws in New Jersey demonstrate another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing cannabis, they tend to eventually expand. A10 serves as a perfect example of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. This bill represents a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition. It also demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
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