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New Jersey Lawmakers And Marijuana Activists Push To Legalize Home Cultivation, Which Is Still A Felony



“We said we were doing this bill for criminal justice purposes, and to partially correct the very failed multi-billion war on drugs campaign that happened for decades in New Jersey, so this is frustrating. I feel like we’re not headed in the right direction.”

By Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor

For the last two years, people have been able to stroll into New Jersey dispensaries to buy weed. But growing your own cannabis plant remains a third-degree felony.

Despite a growing number of nearby states legalizing the growing of marijuana plants at home, bills to do the same in New Jersey have languished every session since cannabis was legalized.

A state senator and chief sponsor of a bill to allow medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis, plus another bill that would expand that to 10 plants for medical patients and six plants for recreational users, said the fight for home grow is “at a standstill.”

“We said we were doing this bill for criminal justice purposes, and to partially correct the very failed multi-billion war on drugs campaign that happened for decades in New Jersey, so this is frustrating. I feel like we’re not headed in the right direction,” said Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth).

Under the state’s cannabis laws, the only people allowed to grow marijuana are those with cultivator licenses. Lawmakers, particularly Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), have previously voiced hesitancy over a home grow program, saying it would stunt the growth of the legal industry and allow the underground market to flourish without regulations. Scutari long pushed to make marijuana legal and sponsored the recreational legalization law.

In an interview last April, he said discussions had started about “perhaps allowing for a very, very slim amount of home grow applicants, some of the more significant or medical patients.”

Scutari did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Marijuana advocates say lawmakers opposed to home grow are misinformed about its financial impact on the cannabis industry, and have stressed the importance of a home cultivation program for medical marijuana users. Growing cannabis at home would be beneficial to patients who have trouble getting to a dispensary or who can’t afford the high prices of medical marijuana. The average cost of an eighth ounce of recreational weed is around $60.

Plus, they argue, Scutari’s argument is moot—the cannabis industry in New Jersey is thriving.

More than 100 dispensaries have opened their doors since sales first began April 21, 2022. Hundreds of licenses have been awarded for cultivation, manufacturing, and retail. Recreational sales exceeded $675 million in 2023, nearly double the year prior. And in February, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission said the state surpassed $2 billion in recreational and marijuana sales since 2018. The agency predicted that sales could exceed $1 billion alone this year.

At that meeting, officials noted that while legalizing home cultivation is not in their purview, they would encourage the Legislature to look into it.

Chris Goldstein is an organizer with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and a longtime cannabis activist in New Jersey. He questioned where Scutari “gets this idea that he needs to protect the industry from home cultivation.” He said it’s ironic that Scutari helped get the cannabis industry off the ground but now continues to stifle it.

“The small business owners I talk to, the consumers, the patients, they say he’s off base,” said Goldstein. “And again, the delay has been really terrible for New Jersey. We’ve seen nothing but the highest prices as well.”

Goldstein noted that six senators from both sides of the aisle have cosponsored Gopal’s and Sen. Troy Singleton’s (D) bill to allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own cannabis.

“I’m not sure what Scutari’s new excuse will be, but I think this is a sort of critical mass on home cultivation coming up pretty fast,” he said. Goldstein joined other cannabis advocates at a protest in front of the Statehouse Monday to bring attention to the need for home grow.

Gopal noted that without a home grow program, people can still be arrested for growing a plant for personal purposes that is otherwise legal, he said.

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He said he hasn’t talked to Scutari about the home grow bills since the winter, noting that issues like NJ Transit’s financial woes and school funding have been at the center of the conversation in the Statehouse. He said support from the governor’s office would help put a spotlight on the issue.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who campaigned in 2017 on legalizing marijuana, noted that in 2023 Murphy said he’s “very much open-minded” to home grow.

“I’d love to see the governor and the governor’s office get louder on this,” Gopal said. “I’d love to see him play a more active role in this. We’re two years in and constituents have had trouble getting affordable, accessible, legal cannabis.”

This story was first published by New Jersey Monitor.

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