New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly have voted to create a new and legal marijuana industry from scratch. They have approved a bill that decriminalizes possession of up to six ounces of cannabis, designed to stop arrests and expunge criminal records of low-level marijuana offenses. Meanwhile, a third bill will reduce penalties for possessing psilocybin, also known as magic mushrooms, from a felony charge to a disorderly person’s offense.
But New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, while being an advocate for marijuana legalization, is opposed to allowing home cultivation for either recreational or medical use. A complete ban on home growing would make New Jersey, which is set to become the largest U.S. state on the east coast to legalize cannabis, an outlier compared to other states that have legalized the plant.
As the laws are currently written, growing a single plant could result in three to five years in prison while growing 10 plants could lead to a maximum 20-year sentence if an individual is charged with “maintaining or operating a controlled dangerous substance production facility.” Additionally, the charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence, requiring those convicted to serve at least a third of it.
Ed Forchion, a cannabis advocate known as NJ Weedman, told Politico that the lack of action on addressing the home-growing penalties is evidence that the state is looking to reap profits rather than help the communities that have been most impacted by the War on Drugs.
“Big guys — corporations — they can violate federal law in the state of New Jersey and grow tons of marijuana,” Forchion argued. “But a little housewife down in South Jersey wants to grow 10 plants in her backyard, will be treated as a first-degree felon.”
Charles Gormally, an attorney with the Brach Eichler law firm and co-chair of its cannabis industry group, told Politico he believes the state will change the cultivation laws eventually, adding that the government may be opposed to home cultivation to ensure profits stay in state coffers. If left uncorrected, he warned that “law enforcement will pivot from worrying about cannabis on the street to worrying about cannabis in your backyard.”
Amol Sinha, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told Politico, “When we have prices that are in the hundreds of dollars per ounce, there’s going to be a subset of the population that’s priced out of it. And growing at home may be the more cost-effective way to grow the particular strains they may need.”
While New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana in New Jersey for all adults, the Garden State is set to become the only state in the U.S. where adults can legally use, possess, and purchase cannabis while still risking prison for growing marijuana at home under any circumstances.