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Legalized Marijuana in NJ: Speed It Up or Slow It Down?

Close up macro buds flowing out of purple plastic medicine container on wood board.

Governor Philip Murphy of New Jersey rode into office on the promise of legalizing marijuana for all uses and almost immediately signed an executive order that would alleviate some of the restrictions currently in place on medical marijuana use. Though medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey since 2010, former Governor Chris Christie made sure that restrictions were tight on prescription of the drug, particularly limiting the list of disorders for which it could be prescribed.

Now, the political atmosphere has shifted from Governor Christie’s days of restraint regarding marijuana and all drugs of abuse to one that appears to be on a fast track to legalizing the drug for recreational use as quickly as possible. Among other things, the executive order serves to direct the New Jersey Department of Health to do a two-month study investigating the state’s marijuana program with the goal of determining how it can increase access to the drug, which in turn is expected to:

  • Decrease restrictions on the disorders for which a doctor can prescribe marijuana
  • Review which medical issues can be effectively treated with marijuana
  • Increase the number of marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey
  • Investigate the possibility of putting marijuana-laced edible products on the market

Said Murphy: “The system we have inherited can best be described as medical marijuana in name only. With a hostile administration tugging the strings of state bureaucracy, the ability of dispensaries to open has been slow-footed. Doctors have faced stigmatization for participating. And non-smokable and edible products that could benefit patients have been blocked from the market.”

What Direction Should New Jersey Be Headed in 2018?

It is true that Governor Christie’s focus during his last year in office was to combat the opioid epidemic by increasing awareness and access to treatment, and providing as many people as possible with the lifesaving opiate reversal drug, naloxone, in order to circumvent deadly overdoses and help people to begin to heal. It is also true that he did not hold marijuana use, or the use of any addictive substance, in a favorable light and worked hard to make sure that only those who were unable to treat or manage their disorders effectively any other way were able to access it for medical use.

In Murphy’s view, marijuana is an issue of social justice. His campaign often focused on the need to cut out the costly low-level drug possession prosecutions in the state that he says disproportionately impact the African American and Latin communities. He also focused on the high tax income enjoyed by other states that have legalized the drug for recreational use, estimating a revenue amounting to $300 million annually.