June 18, 2020

East Coast: Cannabis Access While on Probation in Pennsylvania and Decriminalization in New Jersey

June 18, 2020
Cannabis flower

In a unanimous ruling, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court struck down a policy that had barred individuals on probation from accessing medical cannabis, even if they are under a court’s supervision.

Up until now, a countywide policy in Pennsylvania had prohibited anyone on probation from purchasing and using medical marijuana.

Pennsylvania Allows Cannabis on Probation

The Supreme Court ruling determined that prohibition and denial of cannabis to MMJ patients was in conflict with the state’s medical marijuana program, the Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) of 2016.

“In Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, the political branch has decided to permit patients — including probationers — to use medical marijuana for specified, serious medical conditions, upon a physician’s certification,” the court said in its opinion.

Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor opined: “The MMA (Medical Marijuana Act] contains an immunity provision protecting patients from government sanctions. Per the statute, no such individual ‘shall be subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, … solely for lawful use of medical marijuana.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania, which sued Lebanon County’s court system on behalf of three medical marijuana patients, said the court’s decision applies to every county in the state.

“Basically, it was everything that we had asked for,” ACLU lawyer Sara Rose told WPXI.com.

One of the plaintiffs uses medical MMJ to treat severe epilepsy, another for chronic nausea and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the third for chronic pain he suffers because of a car accident, the ACLU said.

New Jersey Votes to Decriminalize

Also on June 18, 2020, members of the New Jersey State Assembly approved a substitute version of A1897 by a 63-10 vote, which will put an end to thousands of low-level marijuana arrests. The legislation now moves to the state Senate.

As currently written, the measure decriminalizes the possession and distribution of up to two ounces of marijuana by adults — making these activities punishable by a $50 fine.

Though New Jersey residents will have to wait until November to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana, this bill will help stop weed possession arrests that are saddling people with criminal records.

New Jersey and Marijuana Arrests

New Jersey police annually make over 30,000 marijuana-related arrests, among the highest in the nation, according to Garden State NORML.

ACLU Pennsylvania researchers found that someone is arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey every 15 minutes, a rate that has increased over the past decade. The state reportedly spends about $127 million per year on cannabis possession enforcement.

“The time for lawmakers to take action is long overdue,” said NORML’s Carly Wolf.

“Law enforcement continues to arrest almost 100 New Jerseyans every day for marijuana violations, a disproportionate number of whom are young, poor, and/or people of color. Passage of this legislation is the first step in repairing some of the harms caused by the War on Drugs,” Wolf said.

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