New Jersey’s legislature approved a marijuana legalization bill that would make the state the only one in the country that prohibits all home cultivation of cannabis while permitting its use, possession and sale.
Two-thirds of New Jersey’s voters came out on Election Day in favor of a ballot proposal to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older, but the measure did not contain the specifics of what a legal cannabis industry would look like in the Garden State, or even how people would be able to access the plant. That task has been left to lawmakers working to a deadline of January 1, 2021, by which the voter-approved ballot takes effect.
The bill passed by both the New Jersey Senate and House, S21, establishes the tax and regulatory framework for a legal cannabis market. The only approved marijuana growers for at least the first two years will be 37 state-licensed cultivation facilities. S21 goes on to detail decriminalized possession and distribution limits but contains no provisions allowing for home cultivation of cannabis for any purpose.
Under New Jersey’s current marijuana laws, growing even one cannabis plant is a felony punishable by three to five years in prison, while 10 plants could result in a 20 year sentence with a mandatory minimum of at least a third of that term.
Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned hard for marijuana legalization and argued for it on the basis of social and racial justice, citing New Jersey’s racial disparities in marijuana arrests. And while S21 stipulates 70 percent of sales tax revenues will go toward communities and individuals most harmed by marijuana prohibition, the omission of home cultivation could prolong racial disparities in the state’s enforcement of its marijuana laws as well as presenting health risks.
“We’ve been advocating for home grow for the better part for decade now,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s absolutely crucial from a racial and economic justice perspective, as well as a health care perspective.”
“People shouldn’t be forced into going to dispensaries for specific strains they need right now during COVID,” he added. “It would be so much easier if they had access to their own supply, but we just prohibit that. And what’s worse, we punish it severely in New Jersey.”
New Jersey lawmakers’ decision to exclude home cultivation as a legal way to access cannabis in the state is seemingly part of a growing trend when it comes to marijuana reform in the US. Illinois legalized adult-use marijuana last year, but only allows registered medical cannabis patients to grow their own plants at home. Meanwhile, states considering marijuana reform legislation such as New York and Florida appear poised to prohibit home grows.
Marijuana reform advocates in New Jersey hope the omission of home cultivation from S21 will be rectified in time, and warn it may become an impossible issue to ignore if the 37 licensed growers are unable to meet demand at a reasonable price. Others, such as Justin Strekal, NORML’s political director, called on New Jersey lawmakers to align their approach to marijuana with that taken toward alcohol.
“It’s absurd to continue criminalizing home cultivation for personal consumption,” Strekal said. “State regulations governing the alcohol market permit adults the option to legally brew non-commercial quantities of their own alcohol, and it would be consistent with this policy to similarly permit home cultivation.”