Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey have been slowed by political infighting in Trenton. However, the expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program raises many concerns for employers, schools, and medical providers.
On June 7, 2018, State Senator Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, introduced a bill to legalize the possession and personal use of marijuana in New Jersey, for persons 21 years old and over. Senator Scutari’s bill also proposes an expansion of the medical marijuana program. His proposal has been met with staunch opposition within his own party, despite the support of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
In May, State Senate Health Committee Chairman Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, introduced his own bill to significantly increase access to medical marijuana by adding dispensaries and cultivation centers throughout the state. Senator Vitale is opposed to combining his bill with a recreational marijuana bill. The Senate failed to pass either Senator Vitale’s bill or Senator Scutari’s bill before adjourning for their summer recess on July 1, 2018.
Senator Scutari’s proposal to expand the medical marijuana program raises significant issues for New Jersey employers, medical providers, schools and landlords. Under Senator Scutari’s bill, a positive test for marijuana cannot be used as a basis to deny medical care, housing or a job “unless failing to do so would put the school, employer, or landlord in violation of federal law or cause it to lose a federal contract or funding.” Medical and recreational marijuana use remains illegal under federal law. This bill creates thorny legal issues that will require expert advice if the bill ultimately becomes law in its current form.
In March, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, introduced his own bill in the State Assembly to legalize recreational marijuana. Assemblyman Gusciora’s bill did not come up for a vote in the Assembly before their summer recess. The legislature reconvenes in September.
Governor Phil Murphy remains committed to legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey. While waiting for the legislature to pass a recreational marijuana bill, Governor Murphy has acted through executive orders to expand the existing medical marijuana program. Several health conditions were added to the program in March of this year, and enrollment has increased from 16,000 in December 2017 to 22,800 in June 2018.
The expanded list of qualifying conditions includes anxiety, migraines and chronic pain. Employers are now confronted with the dilemma of adhering to state law, which prohibits discrimination against employees with qualified conditions, while trying to maintain an unimpaired workforce. Employers with safety-sensitive positions are particularly affected by the expansion of the medical marijuana program.
The expansion of medical marijuana usage and the pending recreational marijuana bills raise a host of legal issues for employers, landlords, medical providers and schools. For example, employee handbooks will have to be revised to reflect changing state law. Please do not hesitate to contact our Labor and Employment attorneys to answer your questions.