Lawsuit From Anti-Marijuana Group Says New Jersey Town’s Approval Of Cannabis Businesses Violates Federal Law

“Appellants’ declaration that they brought this suit to ‘promote the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare’ confirms that their claim to standing reduces to their abstract policy disagreement with CREAMMA.”

By Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor

A group of New Jersey residents is waging a legal battle against a Middlesex County borough over the town’s approval of cannabis sales, a fight the state Attorney General’s Office says could improperly nullify the state’s marijuana legalization law.

The anti-cannabis group—seven Highland Park residents and a group called Cannabis Industry Victims Educating Litigators—say the town’s leaders are violating federal law by green-lighting the sale of marijuana within its borders and are ignoring the “insidious and minimized” hazards of cannabis.

The group filed suit against Highland Park last week, about a year after a similar lawsuit was dismissed by a state Superior Court judge. The earlier complaint is set to be heard by an appellate panel later this month, where the plaintiffs’ case is opposed by Attorney General Matt Platkin’s (D) office. That office told the court that the plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the state’s marijuana legalization law, known as CREAMMA (New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act).

“Appellants’ declaration that they brought this suit to ‘promote the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare’ confirms that their claim to standing reduces to their abstract policy disagreement with CREAMMA. If that sufficed, then every citizen would have standing to challenge every government policy with which they disagreed, rendering standing a nullity,” Deputy Attorney General Nathaniel Levy told the court in a filing last month.

The legal fight was first reported by the New Jersey Law Journal. David G. Evans, the attorney for the plaintiffs, and the borough’s officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

This isn’t the only court battle being waged over whether New Jersey’s cannabis legalization law improperly conflicts with federal restrictions on marijuana. When New Jersey civil service officials ordered Jersey City to reinstate police officers the city fired over testing positive for cannabis, the city sued the state in federal court, saying federal law bars them from allowing armed police officers to use cannabis off duty. That lawsuit remains ongoing.

Recreational cannabis sales began in New Jersey in April 2022 after voters approved legalizing marijuana via ballot question in 2020. Since then, more than 100 stores selling weed products have opened statewide, including at least one in Highland Park. State law allows towns to decide whether to allow businesses to sell cannabis, and Highland Park has approved at least five retail cannabis businesses.

Plaintiff Mary Botteon said she’s trying to keep Highland Park from turning “into a Pot City Destination.”

“The result of these elected individuals acting without regard to all the laws that they are sworn to uphold, without regard to providing only honest and factual information to the public, without regard to public input when folks convey valid opposition to land uses, is the danger of setting a precedent that I and others adamantly oppose,” she wrote in a filing in the newer case.

The plaintiffs’ argument hinges on the claim that no one in the borough or state is exempt from the federal prohibition on marijuana, despite CREAMMA. They say the possession, production, growth, distribution and sale of marijuana violates the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is a Schedule I drug—a category that includes heroin, LSD and other drugs with no medical value and high potential for abuse. Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it would review whether cannabis should be reclassified to another level. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also recommended that marijuana be moved to the Schedule III category, where drugs like Tylenol with codeine and anabolic steroids are categorized.

The plaintiffs in the Highland Park case cite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that aimed to halt the enforcement of a federal ban on medical marijuana sales in California. The court said that the Constitution’s supremacy clause clearly states that if there is any conflict between federal and state law, “federal law should prevail.”

“Plaintiffs realize that they are taking on powerful and well-funded political and commercial interests in filing this Complaint. Plaintiffs have faith that all will be equal before the Appellate Division, and that the law and not politics or commercial profit, will be the deciding factors here,” the plaintiffs said in a brief.

This story was first published by New Jersey Monitor.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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