TRENTON, N.J. (April 21, 2022) – Retail marijuana sales begin today in New Jersey despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
New Jersey voters legalized marijuana by ballot initiative in November 2020. In February 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill implementing a state program for the cultivation and sale of marijuana to adults 21 and over. Under the law, adults can possess up to six ounces of marijuana, and they can purchase up to an ounce at a time from licensed retailers. As the licensing system is established, existing medical cannabis dispensaries will be able to sell marijuana products to adult consumers. Eventually, retail sales outlets will operate under a state regulatory scheme.
Last week, state regulators approved several existing medical cannabis retailers to begin providing cannabis to the adult-use market. Sales began today.
State officials have also issued conditional licenses to 102 cannabis cultivators and manufacturers.
With only a few medical dispensaries selling recreational marijuana initially, supply could be short.
“A robust, above-ground retail marijuana market is necessary in order to disrupt the unregulated marketplace and to assure that consumers have adequate access to lab-tested, high-quality products at competitive prices,” NORML’s Paul Armentano said. “Such a mature market is not going to evolve overnight, or even within the first few months. Nonetheless, the experiences of other statewide markets show that prices fall as retail access increases and that, over time, prices for lab-tested products in the legal market settle at price points that are more competitive than those in the unregulated marketplace.”
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains a 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 before legalizing recreational cannabis in 2020. These acts removed a huge 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. Earlier this year, 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. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “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.