We knew for over a year it was coming. As if Governor Murphy thumbing his nose at federal law by making New Jersey a sanctuary state was not enough “legalized” marijuana is becoming closer to a reality in the state. According to Politico Governor Murphy, State Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin have reached a deal on marijuana “legalization”. It gets worse. NJ.com reported that the marijuana bill would include a provision to expunge the criminal records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses in New Jersey.
You may wonder why I put quotes around “legal” when discussing “legalizing” recreational marijuana. That is because although thirty states and the District of Columbia that have “legalized” marijuana and a total of 46 states that have some form of marijuana laws (laws regarding “legalized” marijuana, “decriminalizing” marijuana and “medical marijuana”) marijuana remains federally illegal (See the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811)). Under federal law marijuana is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and heroin. The federal government places every controlled substance in a schedule according to its relative potential for abuse and medicinal value. Under the Controlled Substances Act marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug which means that the federal government views marijuana as highly addictive Federal marijuana laws are very serious and punishment for people found guilty is frequently very severe. Federal law considers marijuana a dangerous illegal drug despite not enforcing federal marijuana laws.
Dozens of municipalities in New Jersey apparently agree. In anticipation of a law “legalizing” marijuana almost 60-municipalities have preemptively banned marijuana sales in their towns.
Multiple sources told Politico this weekend that New Jersey lawmakers hope to vote on “legalized” marijuana legislation before the end of the month in advance of budget negotiations. Sources said that under terms of the agreement the state will impose a $42 per ounce tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin also apparently agreed that the Senate would waive its approval of the governor’s picks for a Cannabis Regulatory Commission giving Murphy control of who will be responsible for regulating the industry.
Legislators consider expungements of marijuana convictions from criminal records a key piece of the legislation. It was a foregone conclusion that “legalized” marijuana was coming to New Jersey but expungement of criminal convictions for marijuana convictions is outrageous. These convictions took place at a time when marijuana was illegal in the state (technically it still is since as we’ve discussed state law does not trump federal law). Those convicted broke the law as it existed at the time and to expunge their records is ridiculous. In 1993 I received a ticket on the Garden State Parkway for doing 65-MPH in a 55-MPH zone (before the speed limit was raised to 65-MPH). Is Murphy going to refund the fine and insurance surcharges I paid and give me a credit for the points on my license? Of course not. I broke the law. So did those convicted of marijuana related crimes.
I have heard no mention of the effect of “legalized” marijuana on employers in New Jersey addressed by the Governor or legislature. While marijuana remains federally illegal employers can continue to test for marijuana – both pre-employment and during employment – and refuse to hire or terminate an employee for marijuana usage. This will become a slippery slope when employers begin to terminate employees for using marijuana during their off-time or refuse to hire potential employees who test positive for marijuana use.
It goes without saying I am opposed to states (and specifically New Jersey) “legalizing” marijuana. We are a nation of laws and our government cannot pick and choose which laws it enforces. If citizens want recreational marijuana legalized they must go to their federal representatives. No state can “legalize” marijuana while it remains federally illegal.
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