In New Jersey, where adult-use cannabis is legal, home grow remains criminalized, with penalties of up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine for growing even a single plant. One of the state’s top lawmakers recently repeated misconceptions in arguing that the legislature should allow this situation to continue. His comments blatantly privileged industry profits over the needs of cannabis consumers and people targeted by law enforcement.
“I’m not against marijuana being grown at home and being used for medical purposes, and maybe even just recreational purposes,” Senate President Nick Scutari (D) told a cannabis business group on a January 12 video call. “But we’ve got to kind of let this industry get off the ground … If we flood this market with tons of additional product … I know people think it’s going to be used for personal use only, but it doesn’t happen that way.”
“It gets shipped into Nebraska, and other places where they don’t have a regulated market.”
“The anecdotal evidence from Colorado and many other places is that there’s a proliferation of home grow that just floods the adult market, and in other markets where it’s not illegal,” he claimed. “It gets shipped into Nebraska, and other places where they don’t have a regulated market.”
Supporting the current status quo, Scutari vaguely called for “a hybrid of adult-use, home grow at some point in time, that people just can’t throw some seeds in a pot.”
His comments give an insight into the kind of thinking that hurts cannabis consumers. Home grow can mean access, autonomy and cost savings for them, and legalizing it reduces the criminalization of communities that have borne the brunt of the War on Drugs. But progress on this issue in New Jersey seems slow—even though the state is an outlier in this regard.
Washington and Illinois are the only other cannabis-legal states that ban home growing for adult-use, but they allow it for patients with a medical cannabis card. Other states allow home grow for all adults. Colorado, California and Massachusetts, for example, each allow individuals to grow up to six plants at home. New York allows up to six, but only three mature plants.
Further restrictions often apply. For example, in Massachusetts, home growers must be at least 21 years old, plants must be secured and locked, and they cannot be visible to the public. Landlords, sadly, can prevent renters from growing on their property.
But does legal home grow significantly fuel illicit cannabis sales, as Scutari claimed? It’s unlikely, when major illicit suppliers are all breaking the law anyway, with or without home grow rights.
Granted, in 2021, federal and local police in states like Oregon, California and Colorado raided illicit cannabis grow operations, seizing large quantities of plants and processed weed in some cases. The grow sites included industrial-scale facilities, outdoor farms and residential homes.
But these were all cases where people were growing far beyond the legal limit. A person with three-to-six plants is surely a very different matter.
“We need to shift our focus from trying to eliminate the legacy market to ensuring our communities have access to alternative medicine.”
Local advocates characterized Scutari’s—and other legislators’—continued opposition to home grow as based on unfounded fears, rooted in old “Reefer Madness” or “gateway drug” mindsets. And as for Scutari’s concern for a fledgling industry, they noted that home grow hasn’t stopped states like Massachusetts, Colorado or California from pulling in record legal cannabis sales.
“No matter what, the illicit or legacy market is always going to be around,” Jessica Gonzalez, a cannabis attorney at Hiller PC, told Filter. “But I don’t think the efforts to try to mitigate it have worked. I think instead, we need to shift our focus from trying to eliminate the legacy market to ensuring our communities have access to alternative medicine.”
According to New Jersey health officials, medical cannabis patients now number over 100,000, after a six-fold increase in the last four years. It’s this population—as well as potentially hundreds of thousands more without a medical card, but who still need cannabis for different conditions—that most needs legal home grow.
“A lot of times patients are going to need strains specific to alleviate a certain symptom they’re dealing with,” Leo Bridgewater, director of veterans outreach for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, told Filter. “A lot of these dispensaries don’t carry that same strain month after month.”
In New Jersey, an ounce of medical cannabis can fetch up to $500—among the highest figures nationwide. “We have very high prices for our medical cannabis and we have very low product diversification,” Gonzalez said. “The reason for that is the lack of competition in the medical market.”
And despite Scutari’s depiction of people throwing a few seeds in a pot, growing cannabis at home is time-consuming and complex.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about cultivating cannabis, is it’s got to be in your heart,” Bridgewater said. “All it takes is one time to know this ain’t for me. Most folks will want to try it at home once, then they’ll say, nah I would much rather go somewhere and buy it for myself.”
Scutari is also conveniently forgetting the fact that already, 71 percent of New Jersey’s cities and towns have banned adult-use cannabis sales. That means many consumers will need to drive an hour or more to purchase from a dispensary—if they even have a car.
He and his colleagues should remember that in other legal states, it’s not home grow hurting regulated cannabis sales, but instead the dysfunctional federal, state and local rules that govern the industry. The goal should be to make it as easy as possible, within reason, for people to join a legal and equitable cannabis industry.
Although New Jersey lawmakers introduced several bills in 2021 to legalize some form of cannabis home grow, none have made it to a floor vote. But Governor Phil Murphy said in October 2021 that he’s “open-minded to considering adjusting” current law on home grow.