The legal status of cannabis, including marijuana and related products, is undergoing major changes throughout the country. More than half of all U.S. states, including New Jersey, allow the possession and use of marijuana to some extent for medical purposes under a doctor’s supervision. A handful of states have enacted laws decriminalizing the possession of small amounts for recreational use. This may involve the substitution of civil penalties for criminal ones, or the removal of all legal penalties. A bill pending in the New Jersey Legislature, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act (NJCREAMA) would remove all criminal penalties for the purchase and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis. Several provisions of the bill directly address investigations and prosecutions under New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) law.
The New Jersey DWI statute defines the offense, in part, as driving “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic,…or habit-producing drug.” For alcohol, the statute establishes a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent as the per se standard of impairment. State law also requires DWI suspects to submit a breath sample for BAC testing. New Jersey has no per se standard for marijuana impairment in DWI cases. Prosecutors must instead rely on circumstantial evidence and testimony from police officers trained as “drug recognition experts.” A bill introduced in February 2018, A2776, would establish a per se standard of two nanograms per milliliter, based on blood tests, but it is still awaiting a committee assignment.
Legislators first introduced NJCREAMA in the Senate in June 2018 as S2703. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee reported favorably on an amended version of the bill on November 26, 2018. A companion bill, A4497, was introduced in the Assembly and received a favorable report from the Assembly Appropriations Committee on the same day. This means that both committees recommend passage of the bill. In addition to legalizing small amounts of marijuana for medical use, the bill would create a new Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) “to regulate personal use and medical cannabis.” It also provides for the expungement of records in certain prior marijuana cases.