Several New Jersey lawmakers recently went to Colorado so that they could learn how legalizing recreational marijuana had affected various aspects of that state’s government, economy, and public safety. Upon returning from Colorado, NJ Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney declared that he believes the legalization of marijuana would be a “game-changer” for job creation in the Garden State. Sweeney made a point of highlighting Colorado’s success with its own marijuana legalization laws and stated 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 NJ criminal laws prohibit the recreational possession of marijuana and the use of marijuana anywhere in New Jersey. The NJ Criminal Code specifically classifies the possession of 50 grams or less of pot as a disorderly persons offense (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4)) and the possession of more than 50 grams of pot as a fourth degree criminal offense (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(5)).
Despite the prohibition of marijuana in most instances, the NJ Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (“CUMMA”), N.J.S.A. 24:6I-1 et seq. allows for individuals to possess and use marijuana for the treatment or alleviation of pain associated with debilitating medical conditions in accordance with the certifications of a patient’s physicians. Moreover, CUMMA provides a definition of “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).
For NJ lawmakers who want to legalize marijuana in the not-too-distant future, there are five steps that would need to be taken before New Jersey could officially transition from permissible medical marijuana to legalized recreational marijuana:
- Introduce laws that borrow heavily from the best aspects of Colorado’s pot legalization laws, while at the same time learning from the mistakes in the Colorado laws.
- Enlist further public support for marijuana legalization in New Jersey.
- Secure support from top political leaders in the NJ state legislature.
- Elect a new governor of New Jersey.
- Hope that the president and the US Justice Department decline to interfere with the state’s marijuana laws.
The last two steps suggest how difficult it would be to legalize marijuana in New Jersey. That’s because New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has repeatedly said that he will not approve the legalization of marijuana or officially decriminalize marijuana possession. Beyond that, although states like Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, have already legalized marijuana, recreational marijuana is still criminalized under federal law as a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). What this means is that the federal government could decide, at any moment, to enforce federal marijuana laws and arrest individuals in possession of pot – even in states where the drug has been legalized.