New Jersey law considers marijuana to be among the most dangerous drugs — on the same level as heroin and LSD — despite the state having a medical marijuana program for several years.
But that could change after state officials said Tuesday that they would re-evaluate the drug’s status under state law.
The Division of Consumer Affairs announcement comes four months after a state appeals court ruling ordered the division to review how the state classifies marijuana to consider its medicinal benefits.
The division is now starting the process of considering whether marijuana should be moved from the state’s Schedule I substances list, said Lisa Coryell, spokeswoman for Consumer Affairs. The Schedule I classification is reserved for drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
More than 15,000 people are enrolled in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program.
Judge Michael Guadagno wrote in his October opinion that the medical benefits of marijuana were “not known in 1971” when the state classified cannabis as a Schedule I substance, but those benefits are “abundantly and glaringly apparent now.”
The federal government also classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, which has restricted research into its potential medical benefits.
Even if Consumer Affairs were to remove marijuana from its list of Schedule I substances, that would not make it legal in New Jersey. Possession and use of marijuana would still be illegal to anyone not in the state’s medical marijuana program.
“Rescheduling a drug is different than legalizing or decriminalizing it,” Consumer Affairs said in a statement. The division ranks drugs from Schedule I to Schedule V, with Schedule V being the least restricted.
Coryell said Consumer Affairs did not have a timeline on when the review would be complete, but did say the division would be seeking public input before making a decision.
Newark Attorney Joseph Linares brought the original case on behalf of prison inmate Steven Kadonsky, who is serving a life sentence under New Jersey’s drug “kingpin” statute. Kadonsky had asked the state to reclassify marijuana to reduce long prison sentences for marijuana crimes.
Genny Barbour, a teenage girl in Maple Shade with autism, also joined the case, as her family fought for her right to use cannabis oil at school to control her seizures in 2015. Former Gov. Chris Christie ultimately signed a law allowing minors with developmental disabilities to use medical marijuana on school property.
The move to review marijuana’s status comes as state officials grapple with other cannabis-related questions. Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered a review of the state’s medical marijuana program with the intention of expanding access to patients. A state assemblyman has introduced a bill that would do just that.
Also front and center is recreational marijuana. Murphy campaigned on the issue and a bill to legalize marijuana for adults aged 21 and older is sitting in the state Senate.
It’s unclear when lawmakers might take up the recreational marijuana bill, but the Murphy-ordered review of medical marijuana is expected in the coming month.