After failing to get enough support in the New Jersey State Senate to get a “legalized” recreational marijuana bill passed State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D, Gloucester) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D, Middlesex) have introduced a constitutional amendment to have a ballot question to “legalize” marijuana on the ballot in 2020. There is just one problem. New Jersey voters cannot “legalize” marijuana while it remains federally illegal.
Democrats have spent more than a year debating “legalizing” marijuana and held numerous hearings. In this case state law does not trump (pun intended) federal law. Every state that has “legalized” marijuana has done so in direct violation of federal law. “Legalized” marijuana does not exist in the United States. Despite some form of marijuana laws passed by individual states (laws regarding “legalized” marijuana, “decriminalizing” marijuana and “legalized” medical marijuana) marijuana is illegal under federal law (see the Controlled Substance Ace (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811)). Under federal law marijuana is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and heroin. 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. The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) establishes that the Constitution and federal laws made pursuant to it constitute the “supreme law of the land” and thus take priority over any conflicting state laws.
“This initiative will bring cannabis out of the underground so that it can be controlled to ensure a safe product, strictly regulated to limit use to adults and have sales subjected to the sales tax,” Sweeney and Scutari said in a statement.
Governor Murphy said in a statement “I am disappointed that we are not able to get this done legislatively and that our failed status quo – which sends roughly 600 people to jail a week for possession, the majority of them people of color — will continue. However, I have faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November” Murphy made “legalizing” marijuana a campaign issue but getting a bill passed by the Legislature has been difficult. A number of New Jersey Democrats including members of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus have opposed “legalized” marijuana.
Governor Murphy and Democrats in the State Legislature are wasting our time and tax dollars debating and now putting in the hands of voters a bill that cannot legally pass. If marijuana is to be “legalized” it must be done at the federal level. Those who support “legalized” marijuana should be putting their energies into changing federal law not state law. Until that happens New Jersey Democrats are focused on an issue they cannot legally change while New Jersey faces serious challenges.
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