A state appellate court decision and the election of Democrat Phil Murphy to replace Chris Christie as governor are likely to mean changes in New Jersey’s positions on marijuana.
While it would not be wise to follow the lead of other states and legalize pot for recreational use, the developments hopefully will bring clarity on the status of the drug in the state and potential improvements in medical-marijuana policies.
At best, you could call New Jersey’s current relationship with marijuana transitional. It’s also been confusing, contradictory and both forward-looking and clinging to the past at the same time.
In 2010, legislators passed a law allowing for marijuana’s medical use. Advocates praised the increase in alternatives for patients who had not found relief in traditional medicine. But conflict arose after Christie was elected. Critics said he dragged out the law’s implementation, causing frustration and limiting the potential benefits of the program. The recent report from the federal opioid task force led by Christie recently cited the lack of sophisticated data in questioning the role of medical marijuana.
But the governor-elect has a different view. Murphy is a strong supporter of legalizing and taxing marijuana. While we have said before that New Jersey should wait to study the health and other impacts of legalized recreational pot in the handful of states that have taken that path, Murphy will likely be more open to expanding legitimate medical uses and removing obstacles that frustrate those who could benefit from the drug.
A huge contradiction in New Jersey is the state’s legal classification of the drug as a Schedule 1 narcotic. By definition, that designation means a drug “has no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; or lacks accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision.” The state’s own medical marijuana legislation says pot does have medical benefits.
In a ruling this month, the Appellate Division of Superior Court stopped short of ordering marijuana’s removal from the Schedule 1 list but told the state Division of Consumer Affairs it should consider the move. The decision said the DCA director was wrong when he took the position he couldn’t reclassify marijuana without the federal government doing so first.
As part of the ruling, Judge Michael Guadagno, the husband of outgoing Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, said there is now clear scientific evidence that marijuana has legitimate medical purposes in alleviating pain for certain patients.
The state Attorney General’s Office says it will appeal the ruling, but we hope the DCA eventually comes around to recognizing the need for its classification of marijuana to mirror accepted medical thinking.
The classification of controlled dangerous substances ranges from Schedule I, the most restrictive, to Schedule V, differing in a drug’s potential for abuse, its possible medical uses and the safety of any treatments.
A brief in the appellate case noted that a Schedule III reclassification for marijuana would permit school nurses to dispense the medication, while the dissenting opinion warned any change could blur the line between medical and illicit uses.
Those are factors the DCA should consider, but it seems clear some change is needed.