TRENTON, N.J. (March 24, 2022) – Bills introduced in the New Jersey House and Senate would legalize the home cultivation of marijuana despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Rep. Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D) and Rep. Benjie Wimberly (D) introduced Assembly Bill 3657 (A3657) on March 17. A coalition of six Democrats introduced the companion, Senate Bill 353 (S353), earlier this year.
New Jersey voters legalized marijuana by a 67 percent to 33 percent margin on Nov. 3, 2020. In February 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed enacting legislation to create regulatory and tax structures for the state’s marijuana cultivation and retail businesses. But the current law prohibits home cultivation. A3657/S353 would legalize growing or possessing up to six marijuana plants for personal recreational use, and up to 10 plants for personal medical use.
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.
The legalization of marijuana for personal use in New Jersey removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition remains 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
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. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021 New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational 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 move to legalize the home cultivation of marijuana in New Jersey highlights another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
A3657 was referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee. S353 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bills must get hearings and pass their respective committees by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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