TRENTON – The number of legal cannabis growers in the state will more than double after regulators on Friday issued new licenses designed to ease crippling supply issues for medical marijuana patients and push the state closer to legal weed sales for all adults.
It could take months for such operations to open their doors after trying to find a location, building out and waiting for cannabis plants to grow.
Since medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries already have the products, officials believe it will be faster for them to simply “flip a switch” and open sales to anyone over 21 than for the state to license new recreational-only operations.
“Sixty seven percent of New Jerseyans voted yes for adult use cannabis. You know, they were voting for, you know, safe, and regulated cannabis, not the Wild West,” he said.
Police can no longer arrest people for possessing marijuana but there is no legal way to buy it right now. Marijuana industry expert Mike McQueeny says this could be a quicker way to access legal weed. Setting up dispensaries will take longer.
“It’s going to take at least six months to make our initial rules and regulations, and then only at that point, will they start soliciting adult use licenses. And then it will take another 90 days for those licenses to get considered. And only then can they start the process of opening up,” McQueeny said.
Medical patients could grow up to 10 plants. Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana, has been pushing for this to open up access to more than 100,000 patients who only have 14 alternative treatment centers to choose from.
There is a question of safety.
Gopal says it would be up to local municipalities whether or not to allow dispensaries or growers.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reports, St. Sen. Vin Gopal sponsored a bill to allow anyone 21 and older to grow up to six marijuana plants at home.
“So to truly legalize cannabis home growers should be an option, “Gopal said. “It’s no different than other states like California who have adopted this… . The reality is, as a country and as a state, we’ve spent billions of dollars on the failed war on drugs. And this is just one piece of making sure that it’s truly legalized.”
“We have some of the most expensive medical marijuana in the country,” Wolski said. “So many patients are just, you know, have already been impoverished by their illnesses that they simply cannot afford this medicine.”
Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Sen. Cory Booker is leading the charge to legalize cannabis at the federal level. Yet somewhere between Booker and Gopal, the New Jersey Democratic Party seems to have lost the script. Advocating for a simple home-grown solution should be a simple policy decision for a political party focused on the people.
Who stands to benefit from keeping homegrown cannabis illegal in New Jersey? Although there are no such allegations being made in the Garden State, there have been reports of marijuana businesses advocating for a ban on homegrown cannabis to protect their own interests in other states, from New York to Michigan.
That puts police groups and marijuana businesses on the same side of the issue in a Baptist-bootlegger compromise to maintain the last remaining vestiges of prohibition. And that’s a mess.
No one said ending prohibition would be easy. This is what happens when states are left to their own devices without the benefit of a functional Congress. But that’s no excuse for New Jersey to not get this right when the stakes are so high. Real people go to real prison when we get this wrong.
Cannabis reform groups support Gopal’s efforts, including NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project. Both groups advocate for consistent consumer access. For homebound patients who need medical marijuana and for adults who don’t live near a retail dispensary, residents of New Jersey need the ability to grow at home. Yet despite this attention from national groups, the leaders of the New Jersey Legislature just don’t seem motivated to fix this problem.
As we unwind the cannabis prohibition at the state and federal level, issues like these need to be dealt with. And this one seems to be rather simple. How is the New Jersey Legislature going to deny homegrown cannabis in the Garden State? Just make it happen.
But here’s the problem: although it is legal in New Jersey for any adult to buy cannabis, it’s still not legal for anyone to grow a single plant. If a police officer in New Jersey catches anyone growing cannabis, that person can go to prison for five years and face a $25,000 fine — for growing one plant. That is an untenable situation that lacks any legal logic, and it stinks like Mark Sanchez’s mask after the butt fumble.
So, how did New Jersey find itself in this idiotic situation? Last November, the people of New Jersey voted for a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis. But at some point during the negotiations to draft the enabling legislation, the home-grow provisions were cut out of it. Cut out by whom — and for what reason — remains unclear.
The good news is, it hasn’t been all bad news on the cannabis beat in Trenton. Since July 1, when marijuana legalization took effect, New Jersey has expunged more than 360,000 marijuana convictions while also dismissing pending marijuana cases. The bad news is that expunging their records doesn’t repair the damage done to those 360,000 lives, inflicted by New Jersey’s criminal justice system. To fully correct these injustices of the Drug War, New Jersey must do more than simply expunge some records.