Eight lawmakers from New Jersey recently visited Colorado so that they could learn about the effects of legalized recreational marijuana on that state’s government, economy, and public safety. Following the visit, NJ Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney said that he thinks legalizing marijuana could be a potential “game-changer” for job creation in the Garden State. Sweeney highlighted Colorado’s success with its own legalization of recreational marijuana and added that he is “absolutely sold that this industry can be regulated” because “it’s safe, it’s well managed, and Colorado has done an amazing job.”
Existing criminal laws in New Jersey prohibit the recreational possession of marijuana and the use of marijuana in NJ. In fact, the NJ Criminal Code stipulates that possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana is a disorderly persons offense (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4)), while possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana is a fourth degree felony (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(5)).
Despite the statewide prohibition of marijuana in most cases, the NJ Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (“CUMMA”), N.J.S.A. 24:6I-1 et seq. does authorize the possession and use of marijuana for the treatment or alleviation of pain associated with specified debilitating medical conditions in accordance with certifications by a patient’s physicians. CUMMA defines a “debilitating medical condition” as any the following: seizure disorder, including epilepsy; intractable skeletal muscular spasticity; glaucoma; human immunodeficiency virus; acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS); cancer; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; multiple sclerosis; terminal cancer; muscular dystrophy; inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease; terminal illness with a prognosis of less than 12 months of life; and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
New Jersey lawmakers looking to legalize marijuana have identified five steps that would need to be taken before the state could make the leap from permissible medical marijuana to legalized recreational marijuana:
- Introduce laws that borrow from Colorado’s best ideas while also learning from that state’s mistakes.
- Enlist additional public support for legalized marijuana.
- Secure the support of top leaders in the New Jersey state legislature.
- Elect a new governor in NJ.
- Hope that the president and the US Justice Department do not interfere with the state’s laws.
The last two steps suggest the inherent difficulties involved in legalizing marijuana in New Jersey. NJ Governor Chris Christie has repeatedly declared that he will absolutely not legalize marijuana or officially decriminalize the possession of marijuana. Beyond that, although states such as Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, in addition to the District of Columbia, have already legalized marijuana, the fact remains that recreational marijuana is still barred under federal law as a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). At any time, the federal government could decide to more strictly enforce federal drug laws applying to marijuana.