Trenton – Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari and Senate President Steve Sweeney introduced two bills Thursday that collectively would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in New Jersey and vastly expand access to medical marijuana.
“These two pieces of legislation we introduced represent a concerted effort to put all the options on the table in an efficient, comprehensive manner,” said Senator Scutari (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union) “The legislation to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use would eliminate the draconian laws and penalties currently in place and improve social justice issues in urban areas. Law-abiding adults will be able to partake legally and safely knowing exactly what they’re ingesting.
“The second bill combines the new recreational marijuana use initiative with measures that expand the existing medical marijuana law to widen its availability so that patients have unencumbered access to the full spectrum of relief it provides.”
“From a health and wellness standpoint, marijuana provides relief from a host of conditions,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Salem/Cumberland/ Gloucester). “By expanding its accessibility, we help New Jerseyans live life to its fullest. And by legalizing the possession of marijuana, we correct a great social injustice. Persons of color have been routinely targeted for marijuana possession. If we legalize marijuana, we end that practice while creating a mechanism for individuals convicted of low-level marijuana possession to have their records expunged.”
One bill, S-2703, would legalize the possession and personal use of marijuana for individuals 21 years of age and up. An individual could possess, use, purchase or transport one ounce or less of marijuana. Additional regulations would apply for marijuana in liquid form, concentrate or infused in other product.
The state would establish a graduated tax rate on marijuana sales to be implemented over several years. Local governments would retain the right to create their own ordinances governing the time, place and manner of sales and they would have 180 days following enactment of the law to prohibit the operation of an establishment to sell marijuana. If a municipality fails to do so by that time, sales will be permitted for a period of five years. Every five years, a municipality again would have the option to prohibit marijuana sales.
Facilities that currently are licensed to sell medical marijuana would be able to immediately apply for a license to sell recreational marijuana, but would be required to maintain separate spaces for both kinds of sales.
Individuals who have been convicted of possessing 50 grams or less of marijuana would be able to present an application for expungement to the Superior Court.
The second bill, S-2702, “The New Jersey Marijuana Act,” would in effect combine the policies and regulations defined in S-2703, with legislation that vastly expands access to medical marijuana.
Currently, the law restricts access to medical marijuana to individuals with a “debilitating medical condition.” Under this bill, the term “debilitating medical condition” would be changed to “qualifying medical condition.”
Medical marijuana could be used as a treatment of first resort for any condition on a list that partially includes: epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cancer, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease, terminal illness, if the patient has a prognosis of less than 12 months of life, anxiety, migraine, Tourette’s syndrome, chronic pain, or any other medical condition or its treatment that is approved by the Department of Health.
The bill also expands the list of professionals who can authorize patients for the medical use of marijuana. Currently, only physicians can authorize patients, but under this legislation any health care practitioner authorized under state and federal law to prescribe controlled dangerous substances may authorize patients for medical marijuana, including physicians, physician assistants and advanced practice nurses.
Additionally, the bill would increase the maximum amount of medical marijuana that may be dispensed to a patient for a 30-day period from two ounces to two and one-half-ounces. Patients would be able to obtain a 180-day supply, an increase from the current 90-day supply. Patients also would no longer be restricted to go to the dispensary where they are registered, but rather could go to any designated “alternate treatment center.” If this bill is enacted into law, the state would ultimately issue a total of 98 medical marijuana dispensary permits, with at least one dispensary located in each legislative district in the state.
Twenty-five percent of the total licenses issued to marijuana dispensaries will be awarded to residents of impact zones, areas disproportionately effected by current marijuana laws.
“This package is intended to provide our fellow legislators and the governor’s administration with the most streamlined approach to creating a robust marijuana industry in New Jersey in the timeliest fashion,” said Senator Scutari.
The bills have been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.