TRENTON, N.J. – Last week, the New Jersey Senate passed a bill that would expand the state’s medical-marijuana program to utilize telemedicine despite federal prohibition.
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Holmdel) introduced Senate Bill 619 (S619) on Jan. 14. The legislation would permit the use of telemedicine and telehealth to authorize patients for medical cannabis and to issue written instructions for dispensing medical cannabis. Patients eligible to use telemedicine would include those who are terminally ill, homebound, in hospice care, developmentally disabled, and those who are residents of a long-term care facility.
Under the current law, patients must physically visit a doctor. Passage of S619 would make it significantly easier for patients to get approved for medicinal cannabis and expand the program.
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. The legislature expanded the program last year.
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 S619 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.
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 last 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. S619 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.
S619 will not move to the House for further consideration. Once it receives a committee assignment, it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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