Common Sense Proposal Would Treat Marijuana Like Tobacco in New Jersey

Paging Gov. Chris Christie: "Anybody who thinks this is somehow going to increase the availability of marijuana has never been 19."


Joe Sohm Visions of America/Newscom

A New Jersey state lawmaker has introduced a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in the state and regulate it like tobacco, making it available at grocery stores and gas stations.

State Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, tells Politico he "never quite understood the allure" of marijuana, but believes legalizing pot makes a lot more sense than continuing a destructive and counter-productive fight against it.

"The whole point here is to get the government out of the business of treating at least marijuana use as a crime and treat it instead as a social problem," Carroll told Politico. "To me it's just not a big deal. It's already ubiquitous. Anybody who thinks this is somehow going to increase the availability of marijuana has never been 19."

Carroll's bill would allow retailers to sell marijuana to anyone over the age of 19 (the legal age for buying cigarettes in New Jersey) and includes civil penalties for vendors who sell to underage customers. The bill would not include any limits on the amount of marijuana that an individual can possess and, importantly, it would allow past marijuana-related offenses to be expunged from criminal records.

Another bill introduced in the state legislature this week would regulate marijuana like beer—making it legal to be sold in liquor and grocery stores to anyone over the age of 21. That bill is being sponsored by state Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer.

"I think what's really exciting is that folks across the political spectrum have realized that prohibition isn't working in New Jersey and they are looking to follow the good example set by Colorado and other states," said Kate Bell, legislative council for the Marijuana Policy Project.

If Carroll's bill is passed into law, New Jersey would have some of the most liberal marijuana laws in the country. But making pot available in convenience stores could create complications with federal policy, since marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I drug.

As a result, any convenience store selling marijuana would be unable to deduct business expenses from their taxes under IRS policy, Bell said in an interview with Reason on Friday. Like marijuana retailers in Colorado and elsewhere, stores selling pot in New Jersey might find themselves cut-off from banks as well.

Hopefully those problems will be addressed at the federal level—delisting marijuana would be the best way to do it, Bell says—as New Jersey and other states work to remove limitations on where and how marijuana can be sold.

The other major stumbling block, in New Jersey, is Gov. Chris Christie, who has vowed to veto any bill decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana and who promised during the 2016 GOP primary to "crack down" on states that have legalized recreational marijuana if he were elected president.

Christie is in his second term and cannot seek re-election in 2017 due to term limits preventing a governor from serving more than two consecutive terms.

To Christie's credit, he did sign a bill in 2010 to allow residents of New Jersey suffering from certain diseases to access medical marijuana. On Thursday, Christie signed a new bill adding PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for what the state calls "cannibis therapy."

A third bill in the New Jersey legislature would legalize marijuana only in Atlantic City and is being pitched as a possible way to revitalize the economically struggling city. It would allow the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana by adults over age 21 and would have the state regulate pot the same way it regulates gaming.

That bill, also introduced by Gusciora, would put the issue in front of voters as a statewide referendum, but has so far not received a vote in the legislature.