TRENTON, N.J. (July 10, 2019) – Last week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill expanding the state’s medical marijuana program despite federal prohibition.
A bipartisan coalition of 17 legislators sponsored Assembly Bill 20 (A20). Titled the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act, the new law makes a number of changes to current law that will expand access to medical marijuana in New Jersey.
The new law adds new illnesses eligible for cannabis use and the increases the amount of marijuana a patient can purchase each month from two to three ounces. It also allows edible forms of cannabis and home delivery.
The new law will also increase the availability of medicinal cannabis by expanding the number of cultivators from 12 to 28.
A20 streamlines the process of getting a medical marijuana card and authorizes physician assistants as well as advanced practice nurses to recommend medicinal cannabis. The law also creates three new licensing categories: cultivators, manufacturers and dispensaries. The previous system only licensed so-called alternative treatment centers that covered all three categories. Under the old law, medical marijuana patients had to get recertified every 90 days. A20 establishes an annual recertification process.
A20 also creates a process to approve designated caregivers.
Under the new law, employers cannot take action against employees just because they are medical marijuana patients.
In addition to the expanded provisions, the bill will 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.
The Assembly passed A20 by a 66-5 vote. The Senate approved the measure 35-5. With Gov. Murphy’s signature, the law went into immediate effect.
“Today’s legislation creates a medical marijuana program that is modernized, compassionate, progressive, and meets the needs of patients,” Murphy said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with my legislative partners as we break down barriers to ensure this life-changing medical treatment is affordable and accessible for those who need it most.”
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.
Enactment of A20 further undermines 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.
Colorado, Washington state, 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. Illinois followed suit this year 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. A20 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.