Even though cannabis is legal, home cultivation is a serious offense in New Jersey. Just one plant can get an offender a three- to five-year sentence. Growing 10 or more plants is a first-degree crime that can put someone away for 10 to 20 years, with one-third of that sentence mandatory.
That is preposterous. It’s botany. It’s weed husbandry. And it is legal in 18 other states, for either medical or recreational purpose or both.
But while there is already a smart bill moving through Trenton that eliminates the penalties for a medical marijuana patient who chooses to grow his medicine at home, we need one that covers consumers who wish to grow recreational cannabis, just to prevent their lives from being wrecked by the same outdated rulebook that helped fill our prisons for decades.
So as long as New Jersey is fixing the byzantine mess of our marijuana laws, it makes sense to eliminate the Draconian penalties for home grow, and we applaud Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) for moving that discussion forward.
The bill he introduced Monday allows adults 21 and over to grow up to six plants for recreational use or 10 plants for medicinal purposes. One household could have as many as 12.
The first draft does not specify the penalties for violations, but industry insiders believe Gopal just wants to get the conversation started — if only to get the attention of Senate leadership as the state’s recreational industry kicks off.
The time is right. Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Union), the legislative godfather of the legal marijuana in our state, says he has had “more than one conversation” about the penalties for home grow with Senate President Steve Sweeney, and they agreed on one thing.
“We both know the current penalties are pretty damn harsh, which is why I’m putting a study commission together on it,” Scutari said Tuesday.
“But remember, we didn’t believe that grow-your-own should be part of the initial plan. I think it will be at some time – we just don’t know how and when.”
It’s true that even advocates sometimes wonder whether the balloon is going up too quickly; we haven’t received the ground rules from the just-seated Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), and there could be some concern that home grow could negatively affect the retail market.
The experts disagree, whether it’s about for medical use or recreational use.
“Most serious players in the industry recognize that a limited patient home grow is not a threat to the retail market in any way, shape or form,” says Bill Caruso, the founder of the New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform.
“As for recreational home grow, I’m less concerned about the retail impact than the optics and the culture. An open grow that lets anyone do what they want could be a disaster. It’s not about the industry, it’s about the optics. . . .like huge plants on the front lawn in your tomato garden.”
Gopal says, “I’m not saying we shouldn’t regulate this – let’s give towns the ability to determine what they want to do, give planning and zoning boards a say. But the point of this bill is that we’ve spent too much time and money locking up non-violent people for a substance that is now legal.”
Last month, we endorsed a bill that allows home grown medical cannabis crafted by Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and Gopal because it was thoughtful and compassionate and created an option for desperate people to save on what can be a $10,000 annual expense just for medicine.
But Singleton welcomes this bolder step, because “the more voices in the chorus calling for New Jersey residents to have this same (grow) option is a good thing,” he said.
The late Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen), one of the chamber’s leading conservative voices for decades, introduced a similar bill months before his passing, and it was based on a simple premise: “If it’s a legal substance, what is the public interest in not allowing people to grow it, like carrots or beets?” he said, noting that the irrationality “boggles the mind.”
Just like the absurd penalty for a growing a pot plant, which is a victimless crime. Let’s fix this.
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