Republican Gov. Chris Christie has signed legislation, Senate Bill 2842, into law modifying aspects of the state’s medical marijuana regulations.
Specifically, the law amends requirements that state-licensed medical cannabis producers and distributors be limited to providing patients with no more than three strains of the plant – a regulatory rule that has been in place since the program’s inception some three years ago. Proponents of the rule change argued that lifting the three-strain cap will foster the production and distribution of varieties of cannabis high in CBD (cannabidiol) content. Cannabidiol is a non-psychotropic cannabinoid that possesses a variety of therapeutic properties. However, it is typically present at relatively low levels in conventional strains of marijuana, which typically are bred to possess higher quantities of THC – the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
Senate Bill 2842 also allows for cannabis distributors to produce marijuana-infused edible products. However, at the insistence of the Governor, consumption of such products will be limited to those age 18 and younger.
Governor Christie previously vetoed language that sought to streamline regulations so that qualified patients under the age of 18 could more readily access medicinal cannabis.
Under present New Jersey law, authorized patients may only obtain medical cannabis from state-licensed dispensaries. To date, however, few facilities are actively up and running. Earlier this month, the state’s Economic Developmental Authority approved a $375,000 loan to the Compassionate Care Foundation dispensary, which plans to open its doors in mid-October.
Today in Washington, DC, At Large City Councilman David Grosso (I) will introduce legislation before the District of Columbia City Council that seeks to eliminate all criminal and civil penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis by adults over the age of 21, provide the DC Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration with the authority to license and regulate the production and taxable sale of cannabis, and to seal the criminal records for those previously charged with cannabis-related crimes.
The introduction of this legislation proceeds a summer of an ACLU report on the disproportionate number of minorities arrested in the highest in the country per capita cannabis arrest region, a DPA/MPP-funded survey of DC residents supporting legalizing cannabis at 60%, the introduction of a cannabis decriminalization bill by Councilman Tommy Wells (which ten of twelve council members have co-signed) and finally with the Department of Justice memo issued a few weeks ago allowing states greater policy making autonomy regarding developing tolerant and forward-looking cannabis policies at the state level.
Speaking today before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Deputy Attorney General James Cole reaffirmed that the Justice Department is unlikely to challenge statewide marijuana legalization efforts, provided that these efforts impose “robust regulations” which discourage sales to minors and seek to prevent the diversion of cannabis to states that have not yet legalized its use.
“We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives,” Cole told members of the Committee, adding that state “decriminalization [laws] can co-exist with federal [drug] laws.”
In an August 29 Department of Justice memorandum, Deputy Attorney General Cole previously directed the US Attorneys in all 50 states not to interfere with the implementation of state marijuana regulations, unless such activities specifically undermined eight explicit federal law enforcement priorities.
In response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cole also stated that federal prosecutors should utilize similar discretion and not interfere with the activities of state-compliant cannabis dispensaries, as long as their actions “are not violating any of the eight federal enforcement priorities” outlined here. Rhode Island is one of six states, as well as Washington, DC, that presently licenses the production and distribution of medical cannabis. Six additional states are expected to enact similar licensing regulations in the coming months.
Several Senators and witnesses questioned whether the Justice Department would consider amending federal financial regulations which presently inhibit state-compliant cannabis businesses from taking standardized tax deductions and partnering with conventional financial institutions. Deputy Attorney General Cole responded that such proposed changes in law were arguably the responsibility of Congressional lawmakers, not the Justice Department.
Commenting on the hearing, NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri said, “For the first time in modern history, members of the US Congress and the Justice Department were not discussing furthering cannabis prohibition, but instead were testifying to the merits of cannabis legalization and regulation.”
Today’s hearings marked the first time that members of Congress have explicitly weighed in on the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws since voters in Colorado and Washington elected to legalize the retail production and sale of the plant this past November. The hearing was called for by Senate Judiciary Chairmen Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who acknowledged that the federal government “must have a smarter approach to marijuana policy.” Witnesses at today’s hearing also included King County, Washington Sheriff John Urquhart — a vocal supporter of the state’s new legalization law — and Jack Finlaw, Chief Legal Council for the Colorado Governor’s Office.
Archived video of today’s US Senate Judiciary hearing is online here.
Today at 2:30pm eastern, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold their first ever hearings regarding marijuana legalization and the conflict it creates between state and federal law. The hearing will be held in the Hart Senate Office Building, Room 216. You can live stream the hearing here.
The hearing was scheduled by the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal,” Senator Leahy stated, “I believe that these state laws should be respected.”
In light of the recent Department of Justice memo, NORML believes these hearings can start a dialogue at the federal level that will pave the way for substantial reforms.
“Hopefully these hearings will be just the beginning of what will become a substantive conversation on how the federal government will handle states opting out of federal marijuana prohibition,” said NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “To ensure that the changes detailed in the recent Department of Justice memo are upheld, Congress must act to enshrine into law the ability for states to set their own policy when it comes to marijuana.”
Testifying at today’s hearing are Deputy Attorney General James Cole, King County Sheriff John Urquhart, Chief Legal Counsel to Colorado Governor Hickenlooper Jack Finlaw, and SAM founder Kevin Sabet.
In addition to viewing the hearing live online, please take a moment to contact your elected officials and urge them to support federal legislation to end marijuana prohibition. You can quickly and easily do so through NORML’s Take Action Center here. Check back here on the NORML Blog after the hearing for a summary of the proceedings.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has scheduled a hearing to address the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws.
“It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal,” Senator Leahy stated, “I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government.”
The hearing is scheduled for September 10th and both Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole have been invited to testify.
The hearing comes after 20 states have approved of the medical use of marijuana and two states have legalized it for recreational use. The Department of Justice had promised clarification for these states regarding how, or if, the federal government intends to respond, but has thus far failed to provide any clear policy or guidance. It is the hope of Senator Leahy these hearings will address the concerns of these states and provide them a way to move forward with their state approved marijuana laws.
NORML will keep you updated as more information becomes available.