In New Jersey, medical marijuana is legal but recreational marijuana is not. But there is growing support in Trenton for full legalization and for social justice measures that would address past wrongs of disparate enforcement.

State Senator Nicholas Scutari and Senate President Stephen Sweeney have announced that they intend to introduce a bill that would expand the state’s medical marijuana program, lower and eventually eliminate the sales tax on medical marijuana, and offer some protection to those who test positive for marijuana from denial of healthcare, housing, or employment.

In an interview, Governor Phil Murphy, unlike his predecessor, has indicated willingness to sign a full legalization bill and that supporters of legalization may get their wish “sooner than later.” His predecessor, Chris Christie, said in a radio interview “I am not going to be the governor who’s going to tell our children and our young adults that marijuana use is OK—because it’s not.”

Because of term limits, Christie could not run again for governor in 2017. His low poll numbers did not help his Republican lieutenant governor, who lost against Murphy. Christie’s popularity among New Jersey residents fell after he and his family were photographed using a state beach and governor’s beach house after he had closed the beach to other beachgoers because of the government shutdown in 2017. When asked whether this act reflected badly on his administration, Christie said: “Run for governor, and you can have the residence.” Christie was also implicated in a shutdown of a bridge into New York during rush hour, reportedly as a means of punishing the mayor of the town nearest the bridge for not supporting Christie.

Murphy personally would support a bill that, for reasons of racial justice, contains systematic program to allow for expungement of criminal records for low-level possession. He also is glad that New Jersey “didn’t go first” in legalization, so that the state may learn from the experiences of other states such as California and Colorado.

Expanding the existing medical marijuana program

Scutari has also introduced Senate Bill Number 10, which “makes various revisions to the State medical marijuana program, including revising the requirements to authorize a patient for medical marijuana, expanding the types of health care practitioners who can authorize medical marijuana for qualifying patients; increasing the quantity of medical marijuana that can be dispensed to certain patients; establishing institutional caregivers who can assist patients and residents in health care facilities with the medical use of marijuana; revising the permit requirements for alternative treatment centers (ATCs); and establishing additional protections for registry cardholders.”

This medical marijuana program expansion would offer protection to patients and caregivers against being penalized at schools and colleges and in the housing market. Schools, landlords, and employers would not, however, be required to violate federal law in their dealings with New Jersey’s medical marijuana patients and caregivers. The medical marijuana bill would also offer some protection in the employment market, making it illegal to penalize a medical marijuana user solely for being such. The employer would need to prove impairment. A positive result on a test would not by itself be a cause for termination; employees who test positive could present their cards as a defense. An employer is not obliged, however, to endanger or lose a federal contract by allowing workers to test positive.

The bill states: “Unless an employer establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the lawful use of medical marijuana has impaired the employee’s ability to perform the employee’s job responsibilities, it shall be unlawful to take any adverse employment action against an employee who is a qualified registered patient using medical marijuana.”

While full legalization has not yet happened in New Jersey, it seems likely that it will happen soon, given that the new governor supports legalization so long as it has a social justice component.

What do you think? Will legalization be coming soon to New Jersey? Leave a comment below.

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