Doug Bratton 

Executive Director

February 26, 2021

Partners in Prevention on Recent Cannabis Bills

This Tuesday, Governor Murphy signed three bills into law (A21, A1897, S3454) regarding Cannabis legalization in New Jersey. These laws are in response to the ballot measure voted on this past Fall by New Jersey residents, which amended our state’s Constitution in order to legalize cannabis. Additionally, the laws reduce law enforcement oversight/penalties for underage drinking offenses. The new state laws are subject to review and oversight by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission and have also already been challenged in court. This means that aspects of these laws, including their enforcement, will likely change over time.

While we are still reviewing the language and potential impact of these laws, PIP sees some alignment with our policy recommendations, but also cause for concern. In the area of alignment - our policy position supports monitored regulation of medicinal cannabis/cannabinoids and decriminalization of cannabis/marijuana to reduce penalties for possession for personal use (please see below for more details). Under "cause for concern" - the current laws are not in alignment with several of our policy recommendations, vital for the protection of youth and other vulnerable populations. For example, as written, law enforcement who encounter a minor under the influence of alcohol or cannabis (first offense) CANNOT contact a parent/guardian nor refer the minor to educational, counseling, or treatment services - effectively banning critical early intervention. Additionally, funding mandates are essential to support the increased need for substance misuse prevention and treatment efforts. The reduction in fines combined with the increase in access that come with these legal changes must be addressed. Much work is needed to remedy these problems. PIP will advocate for such changes to promote public health and reduce the impact of substance use disorders, which are central to our mission.

It is important that our community is also aware that the current state laws regarding cannabis use conflict with federal cannabis laws. This means that the current laws do not provide full protection under the law for personal cannabis use. PIP strongly advocates for our state and federal governments to work towards a resolution of this conflict.

Partners in Prevention adopted our policy recommendations on cannabis legalization based on the advice of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). The American Society of Addiction Medicine takes a scientific perspective regarding substance use related issues. Its recommendations are based not on special interest dollars or scare tactics, but on a review of scientific research and a thoughtful approach to public health.  It is a professional medical society representing over 6,000 physicians, clinicians and associated professionals in the field of addiction medicine and has been one of the most respected voices regarding substance use for over 60 years.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine made the following recommendations regarding cannabis/marijuana legalization:

1.   ASAM supports the use of cannabinoids and cannabis for medicinal purposes, but only when governed by appropriate safety and monitoring regulations (such as those established by the FDA research and post-marketing surveillance processes).

2.   ASAM supports the “decriminalization” of cannabis/marijuana in order to reduce penalties for possession for personal use to civil offenses, linked to mandated referral to clinical assessment, prevention/educational interventions, and treatment for substance use disorder when indicated.

3.   ASAM does NOT support the legalization of cannabis/marijuana, and recommends that jurisdictions that have not yet acted to legalize be cautious – more can be learned through data collection regarding impacts, positive and negative, in states that have already legalized.

4.   ASAM recommends that jurisdictions that have already legalized cannabis/marijuana, or those that may act to legalize in the future, implement a wide variety of public health and safety measures to minimize harm to vulnerable populations. These include, but are not limited to:

a.   Prohibition of sales to anyone younger than 25 years of age.

b.   Prohibit marketing/advertising to youth, akin to restrictions on tobacco advertising.

c.   Require all products made available be tested and clearly labeled for THC potency.

d.   Require warning labels, such as “Marijuana use increases the risk of serious problems with mental and physical health, including addition.”

e.   Highly regulate “edibles,” which pose a risk of overdose and poisoning to children and pets.

f.    Tax cannabis at a high rate and designate that these taxes be used for public education/awareness about addiction, prevention services, and treatment services.

g.   Limit cannabis/marijuana sales to state-operated outlets.

h.   Implement public awareness campaigns highlighting the known risks of cannabis/marijuana use to discourage vulnerable populations, including youth, individuals with mental illness, and those with a history of addiction.

As we learn more about the laws and what changes may be made to them, we will keep you informed. PIP will continue to advocate for laws and policies that both promote civil rights for all and promote public health, as these ideals are at the core of our organizational values and mission.