This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We have finally crossed the half-way point. The states featured going forward generally have mixed laws when it comes to cannabis. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. Today we turn to number 21: New Jersey.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 22. Illinois 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. New Jersey’s criminal laws regarding possession of marijuana are fairly simple. Possession of under 50 grams can earn up to 6 months in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000. Possession of any amount over 50 grams can earn up to 1.5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $25,000.
The law regarding the sale or distribution of marijuana is a bit more robust. The penalties increase depending on the amount of marijuana:
- Under 1 ounce earns a maximum sentence of 1.5 years and a maximum fine of $25,000. A mandatory minimum sentence equal to 1/3 or 1/2 of the maximum sentence shall be imposed for this amount.
- 1 ounce to 5 pounds earns a sentence of 3-5 years and a maximum $25,000 fine.
- 5-25 pounds earns a sentence of 5-10 years and a maximum fine of $150,000.
- More than 25 pounds earns a sentence of 10-20 years and a maximum fine of $300,000.
The sale of marijuana to minors or pregnant women will double the term of imprisonment and the fine.
Medical Marijuana. Thewas introduced in 2005 but was not signed into law until 2010. The law is fairly restrictive compared to other states that have allowed medical cannabis. New Jersey cannabis patients must undergo an assessment by a physician registered to certify marijuana patients.
Gov. Chris Christie, who opposed the bill as he was running for governor in 2009, was put in the position of implementing it as he entered office. He’s contrasted New Jersey’s deliberate approach with the, which has legalized the drug, and California, where doctors prescribe it for a wider range of conditions. In New Jersey, a physician must certify the patient has an approved debilitating medical condition, which includes the following:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Terminal cancer
- Muscular dystrophy
- Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease
- Terminal illness, if the physician has determined a prognosis of less than 12 months of life.
Patients who suffer from seizure disorders, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity, and glaucoma may also use medical marijuana, but only if other treatments have been proven ineffective. Additionally, patients suffering from HIV/AIDS or cancer may receive marijuana if they suffer severe chronic pain, nausea or vomiting, cachexia, or wasting syndrome.
Critics of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program have pointed out that the lack of available edibles, restrictions on qualifying conditions, and a limited number of dispensaries has caused patient-involvement to stagnate. The state appears to be at least a little receptive to these critiques. NJ.com reports that the New Jersey Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel is evaluating petitions for added conditions based on scientific and medical research. The board will accept petitions during August 2016 and the results could mean a larger list of qualifying conditions.
The Chris Christie problem. When it comes to marijuana law in New Jersey, any discussion must address the elephant (no pun intended) in the room: Governor Chris Christie. Christie has staunchly opposed marijuana legalization. During the short time Christie was viewed as a viable Republican presidential candidate he made the following statements about marijuana:
I’ve had many taxpayers at town hall meetings who will ask me about, why not legalize marijuana to make the taxes go a little higher? To me, that’s blood money. I’m not going to put the lives of children and citizens at risk to put a little more money into the state coffers, at least not on my watch.
Christie also argues for the largely discredited “gateway drug” theory:
Every bit of objective data tells us that it’s a gateway drug to other drugs. And it is not an excuse in our society to say that alcohol is legal so why not make marijuana legal. Well, why not make heroin legal? Why not make cocaine legal? You know, their argument is a slippery slope.
The Bottom Line. Unfortunately for the state of New Jersey, Chris Christie’s term as Governor runs until 2018 (unless Trump becomes President, in which case we run the risk of Christie becoming the U.S. Attorney General). The Garden State is not likely to make big changes to its cannabis laws so long as Chris Christie is in office. So until he leaves office, we are not likely to see New Jersey’s cannabis laws likely will change little and the state will probably remain out of the top-twenty cannabis states.