Signed into Law: New Jersey Bill Expands Medical Marijuana Program Despite Federal Prohibition

TRENTON, N.J. (Sept. 21, 2016) – Last Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a measure expanding the state’s medical marijuana law, further thwarting federal prohibition in practice.

A coalition of representatives introduced Assembly Bill 457 (A457) in January. The the new law adds post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify a patient to receive medical marijuana under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.

The Assembly passed A457 on June 16 by a 56-7 vote. After substituting the assembly bill for a Senate version, the Senate passed the measure 28-9 on Aug. 1. Gov. Christie’s signature, the provision went into immediate effect.

New Jersey legalized marijuana for medical use in 2010. The program developed slowly. but started to pick up speed after the state’s second dispensary opened in the fall of 2013. Allowing patients suffering from PTSD to access medical marijuana should further accelerate the medicinal cannabis program in New Jersey.

Christie directed the state’s health commissioner to promulgate additional regulations that provide “clear objective criteria” regarding the drug’s use for PTSD, according to The Cannabist.

New Jersey counts as the 18th state to allow medical marijuana for the treatment PTSD.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

New Jersey’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful authority to ban or regulate marijuana 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.

While New Jersey law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward stopping the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, New Jersey essentially sweeps away part 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.

New Jersey is among a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and more than 2-dozen states now allow cannabis for medical use. With half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically blocking the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. 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,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

The expansion of the state’s medical marijuana law also demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. Once the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. A457 represents another step forward for patients seeking alternative treatments and a further erosion of illegal federal marijuana prohibition.