To the Governor’s Desk: New Jersey Passes Bill to Expand Medical Marijuana Program

TRENTON, N.J. (Aug 11, 2016) – Last week, the New Jersey Senate gave final approval to a measure that would expand the state’s medical marijuana law, further blocking federal prohibition in practice.

A coalition of representatives introduced Assembly Bill 457 (A457) in January. The legislation would add 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. The legislation now heads to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk. He will  have 45 days from transmittal to sign or veto the bill, or it will become law without his signature.

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 would further accelerate the medicinal cannabis program in New Jersey.

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 legal 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 thwarting in effect 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 ending 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,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.

This proposal to expand 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.