Adult use marijuana is now legal on both sides of the Hudson. But while New York’s law allows residents to grow up to six marijuana plants at home, in New Jersey, cultivating 10 plants in your basement could get you 20 years in prison.
The Garden State is an outlier in its ban on what is known as “home grow”–allowing residents to cultivate a limited number of marijuana plants at home for personal use, but not for sale. All fourteen other states that have legalized marijuana allow home grow for medical marijuana patients, while the legislation signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo this week allows all citizens to have up to six plants in their homes.
New Jersey’s prohibition on home grow has been controversial because it means citizens can only use cannabis that they purchased from a licensed dispensary in the state, at whatever prices they set.
Some advocates also point out that the state’s 14 existing medical dispensaries have long struggled to keep up with demand. They say allowing people to grow at home would ease demand.
“If homegrow was permitted, it is indeed possible that dispensary supply would be higher, especially with highly sought after strains,” said Jay Lassiter, a medical marijuana user who writes about the issue in New Jersey.
Other supporters have said a ban on home grow gets in the way of racial justice and equity.
“The cost of regulated cannabis is prohibitive for many folks, and an alternative is to allow for people to cultivate their own cannabis for personal use,” said Ami Kachalia, campaign strategist for the ACLU in New Jersey.
“Since wealth in the U.S. is inextricably intertwined with race due to systemic barriers that continue to prevent equitable access to opportunity – that is, Black New Jerseyans have significantly less wealth than white counterparts – the lack of ability to cultivate cannabis is a racial equity issue. “
Kachalia is also concerned about the mandatory minimums that could be applied to people for growing their cannabis at home, since Black Americans have historically been arrested for marijuana use and possession at significantly higher rates than white people.
Legislative leaders, like State Senate President Steve Sweeney, have said they excluded a home grow provision because it would be hard to enforce a limit on how many plants citizens could cultivate at home.
Legislators also said they were concerned that it would encourage an illegal marijuana market –with home grown marijuana sold on the street at cheaper, unregulated, and untaxed prices–and undermine the state’s nascent legal market.
Governor Phil Murphy signed the law legalizing cannabis in February, but there are already efforts underway in the legislature to legalize growing marijuana plants at home, though no hearings are currently scheduled.
State Senator Vin Gopal, a Democrat, has sponsored a bill to allow six plants to be grown at home.He pointed to the support the marijuana legalization referendum garnered on the ballot last November.
“If we truly want to legalize cannabis–which is what the voters of New Jersey did overwhelmingly, [by] 67 percent — then home-grown has to be a part of that. Right now the fact that there’s jail time for home-grown is crazy,” he said. “Hopefully we create an environment where we respect the will of the voters, which is to legalize marijuana.”
In the meantime, the race to see which state opens up the first cannabis store is underway.
New Jersey figures to get there first, given that the law was signed more than a month ago and medical operators will be allowed to sell to recreational buyers. But there have been delays setting up the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which is in charge of setting up the state’s legal marijuana market by licensing cultivators and retailers.
Last week, Murphy swapped out one of the members after the state chapter of the NAACP threatened a lawsuit because they said that the appointments failed to meet a legal requirement. The commission was also criticized because it lacked a Black man, even though they have historically been disproportionately arrested for marijuana crimes.
Nearly a week after finalizing the panel’s makeup, Murphy’s office has yet to officially file the commission appointments with the state Secretary of State, a spokeswoman from that office said. And so the Cannabis Regulatory Commission is not yet official, and has not yet met.
A Murphy spokesman said the appointments would be filed next week, but gave no reason for the delay.