New Jersey places a ban on homegrown cannabis

Published Jan 3, 2021 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Sergii Petroshchuk

There is no legal reason that will allow you to grow marijuana in a New Jersey backyard. Cultivation of recreational cannabis or medicinal cannabis is a felony. Possession and purchasing cannabis in New Jersey will be allowed, but you must be prepared to spend some time in a U.S. prison if you choose to cultivate recreational cannabis or medicinal herb in your yard.

Election day saw the cannabis user smiling more than usual, as two-thirds of the voters in New Jersey approved a constitutional amendment for adults 21 and over, which legalized cannabis use. Public Question 1 did not establish critical rules as to the amount one can possess. The amendment also did not specify how citizens were to purchase their cannabis legally. The amendment left out who would be able to cultivate and sell commercial marijuana to retail stores.

Public Question 1

Recently what some called the enabling legislation passed a state Senate committee. For cannabis possession to be legal by January 1, a full floor vote is needed. This is the date for Public Question 1 to take effect.

Description only

Bill S21, which was sponsored by state Senate President Stephen M Sweeney and Senator Nicholas P. Scutari, is noticeable for what is missing. The senate has not released a copy of the language to the public, and this action or non-action, depending on how you look at it, puts them in an awkward position of speaking in favour of a bill they know only by description.

What the public does know

The public does know that S21 does not allow for the cultivation of cannabis in a back yard. Cannabis grown at a state-licensed cultivation facility will be the only legal marijuana available. Supporters and advocates of the bill are enraged about the stiff criminal penalties for the home marijuana grower. Until the state passes legalization or a separate decriminalization bill, marijuana arrests and possession arrests might continue, even though the constitution states that marijuana is now legal.

Amol Sinha, the executive director of the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union, who also campaigned in favour of the constitution, believes that it is not perfect. For a better part of a decade, they have been advocating for the right to grow weed at home. Sinha believes it is crucial from a health care, economic, and racial perspective to make the change.

Amol believes people should not be forced to go to dispensaries for specific strains of cannabis that they need, especially during COVID times. If cannabis consumers could access specific strains needed from their back yard, it would be much more comfortable and eliminate the severe punishment handed down by New Jersey authorities.

The law

New Jersey state law indicates that the cultivation of ten or more cannabis plants is a felony crime punishable by a ten-year prison term or a 150,000 dollar fine. If you cultivate fewer than ten plants and are caught, it is still a felony, which to date is punishable by a prison term of up to five years.

Help from New Jersey for medical cannabis users

Suppose your medical cannabis prescription is not available at your local New Jersey dispensary. This will be no excuse for you growing marijuana in a back yard. If caught, you will be given the title of a felon.  According to David Nathan, an N.J.-based psychiatrist and the founder of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, an advocacy group consisting of medical professionals who are seeking better cannabis laws, this is not what New Jersey voters had in mind when they approved the ballot initiative.

Final thoughts

Legally state laws that penalize marijuana violate the state’s constitution that voters amended to legalize the drug. This would result in a constitutional crisis, according to Scutari.

SB21 would limit the number of cultivation licenses that the state issues to no more than 37. Legalizing homegrown cannabis would help cannabis consumers who can not afford the prices that dispensaries are charging, and this is a change that both consumers and advocates are expecting to be made.

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