TRENTON — State and federal law classified marijuana as one of the most dangerous drugs more than 45 years ago, citing its “high potential for abuse” and a lack of medical value.
But a groundbreaking decision by a state appeals court on Tuesday said the Christie administration must revisit marijuana’s legal standing under state law because its health benefits are “abundantly and glaringly apparent now.”
A state Appellate Court ruled that Steve Lee, the former director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, had the authority to re-classify marijuana from the “schedule 1” category of the most harmful of drugs. Lee denied a request in 2014 in deference to the 1970 federal law that deemed marijuana as dangerous as heroin and LSD.
The ruling says the state must revisit the matter in light of New Jersey’s nearly eight-year-old medical marijuana law, which enables patients to use cannabis to treat pain, muscle spasms, post traumatic stress disorder and other maladies as recommended by their doctors.
There are now 15,490 registered medical marijuana patients in New Jersey, according to the state Health Department.
The decision does not on its face change marijuana’s legal status.
State officials could still decide to keep marijuana on the most-restricted list for other reasons, but they can no longer claim the drug has no medicinal value, said Attorney Joseph Linares of Newark, who brought the case on behalf of a prison inmate Steven Kadonsky.
Kadonsky, who is serving life sentence under New Jersey drug “kingpin” statute, petitioned the state to re-classify marijuana to reduce “inflated” 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.