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New Jersey

Cannabis Legalization in New Jersey

Bottom Line:

Medical cannabis has been legal in New Jersey for some time, but remains illegal for recreational use. A recent attempt by state legislators to introduce a new recreational cannabis was unsuccessful, though things could be set for a turnaround in 2020.

New Jersey has always been notorious for its somewhat heavy-handed approach to cannabis crime prosecution. In 2013 alone, just a 25,000 people were arrested simply for carrying small quantities of cannabis. Despite the enormous progress being made across the United States in general, this was the highest number of possession arrests in more than 20 years. While the rest of the country was demonstrating a marked decline in cannabis possession arrests, things in New Jersey were heading in entirely the opposite direction.

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When Was Medical Cannabis Legalized in New Jersey?

Given the above, it was obvious that a dramatic rethink to the state’s cannabis policy was needed. While it’s rare for first-time offenders to face a prison sentence, the penalty for simple possession of less than 15g of cannabis strictly for personal use is a fine and up to six months behind bars. Again, a policy that remains completely at odds with the national trend.

A step in the right direction, outgoing governor Jon Corzine brought new cannabis legislation into effect on his final day in office in 2010. Known formally as the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, the new MMJ laws would permit patients with a list of qualifying conditions limited access to medical cannabis. The conditions deemed appropriate for medical cannabis use at the time included cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, seizure disorder, Lou Gehrig's disease, severe muscle spasms, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease and any terminal illness (defined as an illness for which a physician certifies that the patient will die within one year).

What About Recreational Cannabis?

New Jersey found itself on the brink of recreational cannabis legalization a short time ago, but the state’s efforts to push through new legislation failed. However, legislative leaders for the state more recently confirmed plans to conduct a recreational cannabis referendum in 2020. If the vote secures even a fractional majority – as is widely expected to be the case – recreational cannabis sales in New Jersey could begin at some point in 2021.

So, Is Marijuana Legal in New Jersey Right Now?

If you have a medical cannabis permit, you can legally purchase cannabis from a state-authorized dispensary. If not, it is strictly prohibited to purchase, possess or consume cannabis for recreational purposes. Penalties for illegal use in New Jersey remain comparatively excessive, particularly when compared to those of neighbouring states.

Can Patients Under 18 Register for the MMJ Program?

There are no specific age restrictions imposed on the medical cannabis program in New Jersey. Minors can qualify for medical cannabis upon the recommendation of their physician, after which their parent or legal custodian will be responsible for obtaining and providing their medical cannabis in the required dose.

Can I Use My Out-of-State Medical Cannabis Card?

Unfortunately, lawmakers in New Jersey have chosen not to recognize any cannabis cards brought in from other states. This is because the use of an out-of-state medical cannabis card would violate three aspects of New Jersey’s MMJ framework:

  • Maintaining a bona fide relationship with an in-state practitioner registered with the program
  • Being certified by that physician for a debilitating condition
  • Being a resident of New Jersey

Hence, there is no allowance for using a medical cannabis card from any other state to purchase therapeutic marijuana in New Jersey.

Can I Grow My Own Cannabis in New Jersey?

No – all forms of cannabis cultivation in New Jersey without an official permit remain strictly prohibited. Not only are qualifying patients forbidden from growing their own cannabis, but it is also illegal for caregivers to cultivate cannabis on behalf of their patients. Irrespective of how difficult it may be for a patient to access medical cannabis, purchases via licensed dispensaries are the only legal means of acquiring medical marijuana. The state has a relatively well established network of dispensaries, though continues to present problems for those who live in remote areas.

Where Is Medical Cannabis Consumption Prohibited?

New Jersey law clearly states that medical cannabis should not be used in any public place where smoking is prohibited. For the most part, this extends to the overwhelming majority of public places in general. Heavy restrictions are also placed on possession of cannabis in certain public places, which include school grounds, correctional facilities, government buildings and so on. As a general rule of thumb, medical cannabis should only be consumed on your own private property.

How Should I Store My Medical Marijuana?

To maximize traceability, it is recommended that medical marijuana be stored in the package in which it was purchased, complete with original labels and a receipt.  You may be required to verify the legality of the purchase at any time, so it’s worth holding onto your receipts and packaging.

Can I Share My Medical Cannabis with other People?

All forms of cannabis distribution without the express authorization of the state are illegal. Medical cannabis patients are therefore forbidden from sharing their medical cannabis quota with others, irrespective of whether or not they are of qualifying age and have their own valid medical cannabis permit. The only individuals authorized to purchase medical cannabis on behalf of patients are authorized caregivers.

How Do New Jersey Employers Handle Medical Cannabis Consumption?

Cannabis possession consumption laws extend to the vast majority of workplace environments in New Jersey. However, employers are expressly forbidden from taking disciplinary action against individuals using cannabis for authorized medical purposes. No civil or disciplinary action can be brought against an employee for their medical cannabis use. In fact, New Jersey is one of few states to have brought about additional protections for employees who use medical cannabis to treat qualifying conditions.

Which Qualifying Conditions Have Been Recognized and Approved?

Medical cannabis will typically be prescribed only when more conventional treatment methods have proved ineffective. The current list of qualifying medical conditions recognized by the state of New Jersey include 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.
  • Seizure disorder, including epilepsy
  • Intractable skeletal muscular spasticity
  • Glaucoma
  • Positive status for human immunodeficiency virus
  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
  • Cancer

As elsewhere, it’s important to remember that diagnosis of one or more of the conditions above does not necessarily guarantee access to medical cannabis.  Likewise, not all physicians operating in New Jersey are willing to recommend their patients for medical cannabis access under any circumstances.

How Much Does It Cost to Register?

Medical cannabis registration costs in New Jersey are a little steeper than elsewhere – the set fee currently being $200 for patients and caregivers alike.  Those considered to be on a low income may be eligible for a reduced fee of $20.

How Much Medicinal Marijuana Can I Buy Per Visit?

It’s the responsibility of the physician to recommend an appropriate amount of medical cannabis for each patient and condition respectively. All medical cannabis packages are supplied in quarter-ounce denominations and the state’s current maximum purchase allowance is 2oz per month. Nevertheless, a doctor may recommend higher quantities of cannabis in rare instances.

What About Cannabis DUIs in New Jersey?

Just because you are legally permitted to use medical cannabis doesn’t mean you’re allowed to drive while under the influence of your medicine. In fact, New Jersey takes a particularly heavy-handed approach to cannabis-related DUIs.  Particularly for recreational cannabis users, who along with a citation for driving under the influence could also be prosecuted for illegally possessing, consuming and/or transporting cannabis. It’s therefore a risk that isn’t worth taking and should be avoided.

Is New Jersey Likely to Legalize Recreational Cannabis?

The most recent attempt to legalize recreational cannabis in New Jersey was unsuccessful. However, legislators have made clear their intention to conduct a cannabis legalization referendum in 2020. Should the vote be successful, which appears to be the most likely outcome, this could result in the state’s recreational cannabis market going into business in 2021. However, all of this remains purely speculative for the time being.

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