Year in Review: Top Cannabis Legal Developments for 2021

Year in Review: Top Cannabis Legal Developments for 2021

The past year brought tremendous legal changes to the cannabis industry...

The past year brought tremendous legal changes to the cannabis industry. While federal legalization failed to make significant progress, both New Jersey and New York legalized recreational cannabis for adult use and are working to establish regulations for the industry.

Given that it can be difficult to keep up with the quickly evolving cannabis legal landscape, below is a brief summary of several key developments that took place in 2021:

  • New Jersey Adult-Use Cannabis Market: On February 22, 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act into law, legalizing and regulating cannabis use and possession for adults 21 years and older. In the following months, members of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) were appointed, and the CRC adopted its initial rules in August. On December 15, the CRC officially began to accept license applications for adult-use cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and testing laboratories. Almost 500 individuals and entities established accounts in the first four hours that the application portal was open.
  • New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program: The long-awaited expansion of New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program progressed over the past year. In October, the CRC approved 14 of the 2019 medicinal cannabis business applications that had been previously tied up in litigation. The approved applications included ten applications for cultivation permits and four applications for vertically-integrated permits. On December 7, the CRC voted to award provisional licenses to 30 additional retailers, 10 each in the central, northern and southern regions of the state. While existing medical cannabis alternative treatment centers (ATCs) will be the first to enter the recreational market, the CRC has not yet indicated a timeframe.
  • New York Adult-Use Cannabis Market: On March 31, 2021, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo legalized adult-use cannabis by signing the New York Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law. The legislation also expanded New York State's existing medical marijuana and cannabinoid hemp programs and established the Office of Cannabis Management to oversee all three industries. The Office of Cannabis Management is currently working on regulations to govern New York’s legal adult-use cannabis industry.
  • Rise of Psychedelics: Although psychedelics, a class of natural and synthetic compounds that includes psilocybin, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), ibogaine, and DMT (dimethyltryptamine), remain on Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), their promise as a recognized medical treatment continues to grow. In September, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposed a massive increase in the production quotas of cannabis, psilocin, and psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications. Efforts to reform state and regulations are also steadily gaining momentum, with Oregon becoming the first state in the country to establish a regulatory framework for the regulated, therapeutic use of psilocybin. On the federal level, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a vocal proponent of cannabis reform, has pledged to extend his reform efforts to psychedelics.
  • Federal Cannabis Legislation: Lawmakers of both parties proposed cannabis legalization bills in 2021. Most recently, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced the States Reform Act, which would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level while allowing states to establish their own regulations. This summer, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) released a discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The Senators continue to solicit feedback from stakeholders and have yet to formally introduce the bill. While the full House also approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act this fall as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the cannabis banking reform bill did not make it into the final Senate version.
  • Employment Law: Courts continue to expand protections for employees who legally use medical cannabis. In Hager v. M&K Construction, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that medical cannabis is a reimbursable as reasonable or necessary treatment under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA). The court further found that the New Jersey Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (Compassionate Use Act) is not preempted and that the employer did not face a credible threat of federal criminal aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy liability.

As highlighted by the big cannabis law changes that took place in 2021,  it is imperative to stay up-to-date on the latest legal developments and to consult with an experienced cannabis attorney who understands how to navigate the complex and rapidly evolving regulatory landscape.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact Dan McKillop, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.

This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below:

Disclaimer: Possession, use, distribution, and/or sale of cannabis is a Federal crime and is subject to related Federal policy. Legal advice provided by Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC is designed to counsel clients regarding the validity, scope, meaning, and application of existing and/or proposed cannabis law. Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC will not provide assistance in circumventing Federal or state cannabis law or policy, and advice provided by our office should not be construed as such.


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AboutDaniel T. McKillop

Dan McKillop has more than fifteen years of experience representing corporate and individual clients in complex environmental litigation and regulatory proceedings before state and federal courts and environmental agencies arising under numerous state and federal statutes.Full Biography

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Year in Review: Top Cannabis Legal Developments for 2021

Year in Review: Top Cannabis Legal Developments for 2021
Author: Daniel T. McKillop

The past year brought tremendous legal changes to the cannabis industry. While federal legalization failed to make significant progress, both New Jersey and New York legalized recreational cannabis for adult use and are working to establish regulations for the industry.

Given that it can be difficult to keep up with the quickly evolving cannabis legal landscape, below is a brief summary of several key developments that took place in 2021:

  • New Jersey Adult-Use Cannabis Market: On February 22, 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act into law, legalizing and regulating cannabis use and possession for adults 21 years and older. In the following months, members of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) were appointed, and the CRC adopted its initial rules in August. On December 15, the CRC officially began to accept license applications for adult-use cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and testing laboratories. Almost 500 individuals and entities established accounts in the first four hours that the application portal was open.
  • New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program: The long-awaited expansion of New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program progressed over the past year. In October, the CRC approved 14 of the 2019 medicinal cannabis business applications that had been previously tied up in litigation. The approved applications included ten applications for cultivation permits and four applications for vertically-integrated permits. On December 7, the CRC voted to award provisional licenses to 30 additional retailers, 10 each in the central, northern and southern regions of the state. While existing medical cannabis alternative treatment centers (ATCs) will be the first to enter the recreational market, the CRC has not yet indicated a timeframe.
  • New York Adult-Use Cannabis Market: On March 31, 2021, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo legalized adult-use cannabis by signing the New York Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law. The legislation also expanded New York State's existing medical marijuana and cannabinoid hemp programs and established the Office of Cannabis Management to oversee all three industries. The Office of Cannabis Management is currently working on regulations to govern New York’s legal adult-use cannabis industry.
  • Rise of Psychedelics: Although psychedelics, a class of natural and synthetic compounds that includes psilocybin, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), ibogaine, and DMT (dimethyltryptamine), remain on Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), their promise as a recognized medical treatment continues to grow. In September, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposed a massive increase in the production quotas of cannabis, psilocin, and psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications. Efforts to reform state and regulations are also steadily gaining momentum, with Oregon becoming the first state in the country to establish a regulatory framework for the regulated, therapeutic use of psilocybin. On the federal level, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a vocal proponent of cannabis reform, has pledged to extend his reform efforts to psychedelics.
  • Federal Cannabis Legislation: Lawmakers of both parties proposed cannabis legalization bills in 2021. Most recently, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced the States Reform Act, which would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level while allowing states to establish their own regulations. This summer, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) released a discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The Senators continue to solicit feedback from stakeholders and have yet to formally introduce the bill. While the full House also approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act this fall as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the cannabis banking reform bill did not make it into the final Senate version.
  • Employment Law: Courts continue to expand protections for employees who legally use medical cannabis. In Hager v. M&K Construction, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that medical cannabis is a reimbursable as reasonable or necessary treatment under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA). The court further found that the New Jersey Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (Compassionate Use Act) is not preempted and that the employer did not face a credible threat of federal criminal aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy liability.

As highlighted by the big cannabis law changes that took place in 2021,  it is imperative to stay up-to-date on the latest legal developments and to consult with an experienced cannabis attorney who understands how to navigate the complex and rapidly evolving regulatory landscape.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact Dan McKillop, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.

This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below:

Disclaimer: Possession, use, distribution, and/or sale of cannabis is a Federal crime and is subject to related Federal policy. Legal advice provided by Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC is designed to counsel clients regarding the validity, scope, meaning, and application of existing and/or proposed cannabis law. Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC will not provide assistance in circumventing Federal or state cannabis law or policy, and advice provided by our office should not be construed as such.