Last Update: August 12, 2014
Progress is slow, but reformers are not giving up
In 2014, several important marijuana policy reform bills have been introduced, though none has advanced out of committee yet. These include: Assemblyman Reed Gusciora’s decriminalization bill, A218, which would impose a civil fine for the possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana; S1896, Senator Nicholas Scutari’s bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol; and several proposals to improve New Jersey’s existing medical marijuana program.
Earlier this summer, several local editorial boards called out the “dysfunction” of the state program. Currently, it serves only about 2,000 patients out of an estimated tens of thousands, through only three operational treatment centers, despite having been made law more than four years ago. Gov. Chris Christie has attributed this to a lack of demand for medical marijuana. However, the low participation is more likely caused by unreasonably strict requirements.
Fortunately, Assemblywoman Linda Stender and a number of her colleagues have recently introduced legislation that is expected to dramatically improve the program. A3525 would expand the list of qualifying conditions, allow home cultivation, remove the cap on the number of dispensaries, eliminate the sales tax, and add limited anti-discrimination protections for patients.
Voters are ready for reform. A poll released in June 2013 found that 67% of New Jersey voters favor reducing penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil fine, with no possibility of jail time. In the past, Gov. Christie has threatened to veto such measures if they passed. So it is especially important for your representatives to know that you stand behind them in supporting A218. Please email them today! Make sure to sign up for MPP alerts to get the latest updates on marijuana policy in New Jersey.
New Jersey medical marijuana program slowly growing
Although the Garden State’s medical marijuana program was signed into law in 2010, implementation has been slow. New Jersey's law does not allow patients or caregivers to cultivate medical marijuana and the single alternative treatment center (ATC) that was opened in late 2012 was only able to produce enough medicine to serve a fraction of the state’s patients. At long last, two more ATCs opened in Fall 2013. Three more have been preliminarily approved but have not yet opened. As of January 2014, there are 2,279 patients registered with the state Medicinal Marijuana Program.
Another obstacle facing patients in New Jersey is the fact that not all doctors can recommend medical marijuana. Unlike other states with medical marijuana laws in effect, only doctors who register with the state are allowed to qualify patients for New Jersey’s program. Information on how to find a doctor who can qualify patients for the MMP is available here.
ACLU study shows New Jersey’s harsh marijuana laws result in racially disproportionate arrest rates
In New Jersey, possession of even a single joint for non-medical purposes is punishable by up to six months of incarceration and up to a $1,000 fine.
A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that although blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly identical rates, blacks in New Jersey are 2.8 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
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