TRENTON, N.J. (Jan 15, 2024) – Bills introduced in the New Jersey Senate would expand the state’s marijuana laws despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
A coalition of six senators led by Sen. Vin Gopal introduced Senate Bill 1985 (S1985) on Jan. 9. 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. However, the current law prohibits home cultivation. S1985 would legalize growing or possessing up to six marijuana plants for personal recreational use, and up to 10 plants for personal medical use.

Rep. John McKeon introduced Senate Bill 1126 (S1126). One of the biggest hurdles in legalization at the state level is the Federal Reserve and its control over the banking system.

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, cannabis businesses in states that have legalized marijuana remain effectively locked out of the banking system. If a federally chartered or insured financial institution touches marijuana money, it takes on significant legal risk. The federal government insures or charters virtually every bank in the U.S. As a result, cannabis businesses have been forced to transact almost exclusively in cash. The passage of S1126 would work around this by establishing a New Jersey state bank specifically for the handling of funds associated with marijuana commerce.

Passage of either of these bills would help expand the marijuana market in New Jersey, further nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in practice and effect.


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.


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 YorkNew MexicoVirginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. Missouri and Maryland legalized marijuana in November 2022. The Delaware legislature legalized marijuana in 2023, and Ohio voters approved marijuana for adult use in the November election. Currently,  38 states allow cannabis for medical use, and 24 have legalized it for recreational use.

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.”


S1985 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, while S1126 was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee. The bills must get hearings and pass their respective committees by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.