New Jersey Could Loosen Its Marijuana Laws in 2020



New Jersey is one of the smallest states in the US, but it has a dense population. The state legalized cannabis for medical use for certain qualifying conditions in 2010, and it expanded the list of conditions in 2017. However, the state’s efforts to legalize the recreational use of cannabis have been unsuccessful over the years. Let’s take a look at New Jersey’s marijuana laws in detail.

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New Jersey’s marijuana laws before medical legalization

Before the legalization of cannabis for medical use, New Jersey had some of the strictest marijuana rules in the country. Possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana was a criminal offense in the state. Penalties for these crimes could include up to six months in jail and huge fines. Even some first-time offenders served jail time.

Though it’s one of the smallest states in the country, New Jersey’s cannabis arrests have been high compared to the national trend. As per the ACLU’s 2014 report on cannabis in New Jersey, cannabis arrests saw a continuous increase, and black people were 2.8 times likely to be arrested from 2001 to 2010. New Jersey arrested more than 37,000 people for marijuana possession and sales in 2017—one of the highest rates in the country.

Timeline for New Jersey marijuana laws

Former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed a bill to legalize medical marijuana on January 18, 2010. The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act allowed for the use of medical cannabis for patients with certain qualifying medical conditions. In 2013, former Governor Chris Christie signed a bill allowing for the use of medical cannabis by sick children. In 2017, the Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel of New Jersey voted 5–1 in support of expanding the qualifying conditions.

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State Senator Nicholas Scutari introduced a bill to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in 2017. Under this proposal, adults aged 21 or older would legally be able to possess and use cannabis for recreational purposes. However, Christie strongly opposed the bill. Governor Phil Murphy is a big supporter of marijuana legalization. After all the opposition and support, the state finally passed a bill to present recreational marijuana legalization on the 2020 election ballot in both houses last year.

Medical marijuana

The Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act was approved on January 18, 2010. The act, which Corzine signed, allows for the medical use of cannabis for patients with certain qualifying conditions. The act also permits the state’s health department to add more health conditions to the list, but it doesn’t permit patients to grow their own cannabis plants. Patients can get their plants from the state’s treatment centers.

New Jersey’s medical marijuana program fee is $100. However, a patient may be eligible for a discount if he or she is a senior citizen, is a military veteran, or qualifies for an assistance program under the state or nation.

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Qualifying medical conditions

The Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act allows for the use of medical marijuana for conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, seizures, severe muscle spasms, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, muscular dystrophy, and other terminal illnesses due to which the patient may die within a year.

Seven years after the marijuana program launch, New Jersey’s medical marijuana review panel voted 5–1 in support of increasing the number of qualifying conditions for a prescription. After this proposal, the state’s qualifying medical illnesses added migraines, anxiety due to autism, Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pains, opioid use disorder, diabetes, sciatica, arthritis, injuries, surgeries, Lyme disease, irritable bowel syndrome, neuropathy, lupus, pancreatitis, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia to the list of qualifying conditions.

The initial expansion proposal included asthma and prolonged fatigue, but the panel denied these two illnesses. The state health commissioner decided on the final expansion list.

New Jersey’s medical marijuana dispensaries

New Jersey’s medical marijuana law allows for only six alternative treatment centers. These nonprofit centers get their contracts from the state. They have the sole right to cultivate, produce, and supply medical marijuana to patients in New Jersey. The state launched its first medical marijuana dispensary in December 2012. However, in the next three years, it opened four more dispensaries. It launched its final dispensary in June 2018. The six New Jersey dispensaries are as follows:

  • Greenleaf Compassion Center, located in Montclair.
  • Breakwater Treatment & Wellness, located in Cranbury.
  • Curaleaf NJ, located in Bellmawr.
  • Compassionate Care Foundation, located in Egg Harbor Township.
  • Garden State Dispensary, located in Woodbridge.
  • Harmony Dispensary, located in Secaucus.
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Medical marijuana program process

To apply for a medical marijuana card, a patient must be at least 18 years old. The patient should also be a New Jersey resident and should provide a valid ID to verify his or her resident status and age. The state also allows minors to apply for medical marijuana cards via a designated legal guardian. There must also be a signed confirmation from the minor’s psychiatrist and pediatrician. The patient’s medical condition should fall under the state’s approved list.

Steps to getting a medical marijuana card

  • Patients with a qualifying condition should visit a physician who is registered with the state’s Department of Health. The initial consultation includes a review of the patient’s medical history and an examination of his or her condition.
  • After the medical evaluation, the doctor will recommend marijuana if the patient qualifies for it under the law. To be eligible, the patient should not be using any other drug.
  • After the initial consultation, the patient should go for a follow-up visit. The doctor will analyze the patient’s test results and recommend medical marijuana if necessary, usually in the range of half an ounce to two ounces.
  • Once the patient receives the doctor’s certification, he or she can apply for a medical marijuana card. He or she must provide the necessary documents. If a caregiver is applying for the patient, the caregiver should also submit a criminal background check form.
  • The state will review the application and respond via email. After receiving notification of the completion of the application, the patient can pay the application fee online. Even if the application is rejected, the fee won’t be refunded.
  • The patient will receive his or her medical marijuana card within two to three weeks. After receiving the card, the patient can visit any of the six state dispensaries to buy his or her medical marijuana.
  • The patient should have a follow-up visit with the doctor after using medical cannabis. The doctor will monitor the patient’s progress and continue to update the dosage.
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Medical marijuana program to date

In the initial phase, the state’s marijuana program had rigid limitations. Enrollment in the program was very slow in the introductory years. However, it came as a hefty cost for the state. Because then-Governor Christie was against legalization altogether, resistance to the program was high. Registered patients under the program totaled just over 5,500 in 2015. However, this number doubled in the next couple of years.

New Jersey’s marijuana is some of the most expensive in the US. Average-quality marijuana costs about $400 per ounce in the state. However, the best-quality strains can cost almost $600. The program currently serves more than 63,000 registered patients.

Unsuccessful recreational marijuana legalization

Scutari is an advocate for legalizing recreational marijuana. He introduced a bill (S3195) to legalize marijuana in May 2017. Under the proposal, adults aged 21 or older could legally possess and consume marijuana. However, the proposal received strong opposition from Christie, the governor at the time.

The contents of the proposal were as follows:

  • New Jersey adults aged 21 or older could legally possess cannabis up to one ounce. In addition, an adult could possess edible cannabis products up to 16 ounces, cannabis-infused drinks and oils up to 72 ounces, and concentrates up to seven ounces.
  • The proposal also included a sales tax on cannabis products. The taxes for the first and second years would be 7% and 10%, respectively. In addition, the tax would progressively increase by 5% each year until it touched 25% after four years.
  • The proposal wouldn’t allow for the cultivation of cannabis by individuals for personal use.
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Even after Christie’s term ended, the government didn’t pass Scutari’s proposal. However, the state received more than 15 legalization proposals in the assembly. Murphy, the current governor, is a supporter of legalization. He’s very active in showing his support and even suggesting the decriminalization of marijuana as an interim measure.

Scutari’s New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Act

Scutari introduced another bill, the New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Act, to legalize, regulate, and tax recreational marijuana on June 7, 2018. President of the New Jersey Senate Stephen M. Sweeney cosponsored the proposal. The bill (S2703) proposed the following:

  • Possession of up to one ounce of recreational marijuana would become legal.
  • The state would levy a 12% sales tax on marijuana products. In addition, municipalities could levy an additional 2% tax.

However, the bill’s progress was halted due to legislative gridlock. In addition to this, Murphy and Sweeney disagreed on the details of the proposal. Democratic Senator Ronald Rice and most Republicans also opposed marijuana legalization. Advocates of marijuana legalization required support from Senate Democrats and Republicans to pass it, and Murphy and Sweeney couldn’t gather enough support from senators to legalize.

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2020 recreational marijuana legalization

After the state failed to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, state leaders decided to place a marijuana legalization poll on the 2020 ballot. The New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Amendment will be presented on the ballot on November 3, 2020.

If the referendum finds the required support on the ballot and passes, the possession and consumption of marijuana will become legal in New Jersey for adults aged 21 or older. Once the referendum is passed, the proposal will go back to lawmakers to decide what laws will govern the state’s recreational marijuana industry. Other states to place proposals for recreational marijuana on the 2020 ballot include Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, and Missouri.

In a recent poll by Monmouth University, 62% of New Jersey adults showed their support for legalizing the possession of marijuana in small quantities. However, 32% opposed legalization. This poll result showed the highest support from the state’s residents for legalizing marijuana in the last few years. With most voters supporting the measure, could recreational marijuana legalization actually see the light of day in New Jersey this year?


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