TRENTON, N.J. (Nov. 3, 2020) – Today, voters in New Jersey passed a ballot measure to legalize marijuana by wide margin, despite federal prohibition on the same.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 183 (SCR183) was introduced in 2018 by Sen. Nicholas Scutari and six cosponsors. The measure passed the state Senate in a 24-16 vote while the state Assembly voted 49-24 in Dec. 2019.
The measure then bypassed the governor and went directly to the ballot in 2020 as Public Question No. 1. Voters today said “yes” by a wide margin. At the time of publication, it was ahead by a tally of 67-33%.
The ballot measure legalizes the possession, use and cultivation of marijuana by persons 21 and older, along with the manufacture and retail sales of cannabis products. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission that currently oversees the state’s medical-marijuana program will manage the regulatory scheme. It reads, as follows:
Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’? Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.”
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 New Jersey legislature expanded the program further in 2019.
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.
On January 18, 2010, amidst a “flurry of bills” he signed on his final day in office, outgoing governor Jon Corzine signed into law S. 119, the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, permitting the use of medical cannabis for persons with listed conditions: cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, seizure disorder, Lou Gehrig’s disease, severe muscle spasms, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and any terminal illness (defined as an illness for which a physician certifies that the patient will die within one year).
Legalization of marijuana for personal use in New Jersey takes the next step and removes another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. 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.
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. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 34 states including 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.
The push to legalize marijuana for personal use in New Jersey demonstrates another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way for medical purposes – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand grows. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
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