Testimony before the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee on S. 2703
David L. Nathan, MD, DFAPA
March 18, 2019
Thank you and good afternoon Chairman Scutari and honorable members of the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee.
My name is Dr. David Nathan. Originally from the Philadelphia area, I attended Princeton University, received my M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and completed my residency at Harvard Medical School. I am a board-certified psychiatrist and educator, and for the past 21 years I have maintained a private practice in Princeton, where I live with my wife and our two teenage children. I am a Clinical Associate Professor at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.
I speak to you today in strong support of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act. I am the founder and board president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (or DFCR), which is the first and only national medical association dedicated to the legalization, taxation and – above all – the effective regulation of cannabis in the United States. DFCR is a steering committee member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform and a coalition member of the New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance’s New Solutions Campaign.
Esteemed members of the Senate Judiciary Committee: The historic bill you are considering today is consistent with the spirit of DFCR’s Platform of Regulations. Properly executed, the powers given to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission will protect public health by ensuring that cannabis is cultivated, tested, labeled, and sold in retail establishments to adults under strict government supervision. There are deterrents to underage use that do not currently exist under prohibition.
While DFCR would have liked this bill to include legalization of limited home cultivation, other social justice provisions will facilitate expungement of cannabis offenses, promote minority participation in the industry, and bring some measure of equity to communities disproportionately affected by the drug war – which are mainly communities of color.
In short, we cannot allow perfection to be the enemy of the good, and Mr. Chairman, I join you in calling for an end to the failed 82-year prohibition of cannabis in New Jersey – now.
Alcohol Prohibition was repealed after just thirteen years because of unintended consequences: organized crime, increased use of hard alcohol, and government waste. The same consequences have resulted from cannabis prohibition.
Cannabis is one of many commonly used drugs and medications that can impair driving in some individuals, although the level of impairment is not nearly as great as it is for alcohol. Some have proposed using a per se test of blood, saliva or breath to assess cannabis intoxication. However, there is currently no reliable test of this kind that measures impairment or even recent use. The best approach to DUI cannabis is the use of drug recognition experts (DREs). New Jersey has almost 500 DREs, the second largest number in any state. I have spoken with Lt. Christopher Dudzik of the Tom’s River Police Department – current president of the NJ DRE Association – about the need for further expansion of our DRE program independent of cannabis legalization, particularly because of the many drugs other than cannabis – sedatives, opioids, and even stimulants – that can affect driving and for which per se testing is unhelpful.
Legalization of cannabis will not create a new hazard on New Jersey’s roads, as cannabis use is already common, and laws against drugged driving already exist. We have reason to be hopeful that regulation will be accompanied by better public understanding about responsible use. Nonetheless, in the interest of public health, we must do what we can to prevent impaired driving of any kind.
While Doctors for Cannabis Regulation supports the legalization and regulation of cannabis for adult use, it emphatically opposes underage recreational use of cannabis.
But cannabis prohibition for adults does not prevent underage use. The government’s own statistics show that 80-90% of eighteen-year-olds have consistently reported easy access to the drug since the 1970s.
Government licensed retailers check IDs and only sell cannabis products to adults. Under a regulated system, anyone who diverts cannabis to minors would be penalized, which allows law enforcement to focus on those points of diversion. Thus, minors will have fewer points of access to the drug.
Opponents of legalization say that cannabis legalization “sends the wrong message” to kids. They argue that if a drug or activity is legal for adults, then minors will think it’s safe for them. However, when cannabis is against the law for everyone, the government is saying that cannabis is dangerous for everyone, and kids know that’s not true. By creating a legal distinction between cannabis use by adults and minors, we demonstrate a respect for scientific evidence – and the sanctity of the law – that we would want our children to emulate.
When children and teens know we’re being honest with them and trust the information we provide, they’re more likely to take our advice seriously. For decades, preventive education reduced the rates of alcohol and tobacco use by minors, while underage cannabis use rose steadily despite its prohibition for adults. Recently, teen use has remained level in legalized states, with a possible decrease in use among 12-17 year olds. This suggests that regulation of the cannabis trade, coupled with smart youth education, may actually help decrease underage use of cannabis.
I would like to thank the Legislature, Governor’s office and our allies in advocacy for their hard work in bringing us to this historic moment in New Jersey history. I am happy to answer any questions.
David L. Nathan, MD, DFAPA
David L. Nathan, MD, DFAPA (DFCR Founder, Board President) is a psychiatrist, writer, and educator in Princeton NJ. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. While maintaining a full-time private practice, he serves as Director of Continuing Medical Education for the Princeton HealthCare System (PHCS) and Director of Professional Education at Princeton House Behavioral Health (PHBH). While serving on the steering committee of New Jersey United For Marijuana Reform (NJUMR.org), Dr. Nathan was surprised by the absence of any national organization to act as the voice of physicians who wish to guide our nation along a well-regulated path to cannabis legalization. This need was the inspiration for Doctors for Cannabis Regulation.
 Platform of Regulations, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, 2019. https://dfcr.org/platform-of-regulations/
 Johnston, Lloyd. Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2008: Volume II: College Students and Adults Ages 19-50. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2009. http://monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/vol2_2008.pdf
 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/index.htm
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, State Estimates of Adolescent Marijuana Use and Perceptions of Risk of Harm from Marijuana Use: 2013 and 2014 (2015) available at https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2404/ShortReport-2404.pdf.