The adult-use and medical cannabis home cultivation legalization bill S 353 introduced by State Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) has gained new co-sponsors, including a former Republican Sheriff.
The bill gained two new co-sponsors in the State Senate and two primary sponsors in the Assembly where it was introduced as A 3657.
Republican State Senator Jean Stanfield (R-Burlington), who first took office earlier this year, has endorsed Gopal’s bill. She replaced former Senator Diane Addiego, a Republican who defected to the Democrats and then lost her re-election bid last year. Stanfield was previously an Assemblywoman who first took office in 2019.
She said she has spoken to many people in her district, including Vietnam War Veterans and cancer patients, who urged her to support cannabis home cultivation.
“They keep saying they can’t grow their own medicine, and it’s so expensive,” Stanfield said. “It’s been pretty frequent when people raise the issue.”
She noted she has spoken to many people from different backgrounds at several events about cannabis home cultivation.
“They found it really helps them with their pain,” Stanfield said.
She said she decided to support the bill due to “the logic of it. If you can possess marijuana, why can’t you grow plants?”
Being caught cultivating cannabis at home remains a felony in New Jersey after legalization.
“There’s no harm growing plants at home. You know what you’re getting,” Stanfield said.
“It does not make sense you can do years in prison for something that’s otherwise legal,” she noted regarding adult-use cannabis home cultivation.
Stanfield explained she was previously the elected Sheriff of Burlington County. Thus, supporting the bill “sounds kind of funny.”
She noted she is “probably not your traditional Republican” as someone who is fiscally responsible and open to more social ideas.
Stanfield admitted she did have concerns before legalization about the possible negative effects of people driving while high.
“Since it’s legal, there’s no harm in growing at home,” she said.
Stanfield plans to discuss it with her Republican colleagues more and noted early feedback was positive.
She said it has been great being a new State Senator working with the Democrats on many bipartisan bills.
Bills that have bipartisan support have a greater probability of passage.
Senator Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset) has also signed up as a sponsor of S 353. He previously sponsored the bill last session as an Assemblyman after Coalition for Medical Marijuana of NJ (CMMNJ) Executive Director Ken Wolski advocated that he sponsor it. Zwicker also sponsored the Jake Honig Act of 2019, which expanded the medical cannabis program.
The adult-use and medical cannabis home cultivation bill S 353 has been referred to the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee, now chaired by Brian Stack (D-Hudson). Its former chair Nick Scutari (D-Union), is the new Senate President. He succeeded Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who lost his bid for re-election in a historic upset after holding the position for 12 years. Sweeney is the longest-serving Senate President in New Jersey’s history.
Sources have said Sweeny was more opposed to cannabis home cultivation legalization versus Scutari.
While he does not oppose cannabis home cultivation legalization, Scutari said there should be an enforcement mechanism to limit the number of plants, and the cannabis industry should be allowed to mature first.
Fighting for Cannabis Home Cultivation in the Assembly
Gopal’s adult-use and medical cannabis homegrow bill now has a companion bill in the Assembly as A 3657 introduced by Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds Jackson (D-Mercer). She had already introduced Senate Majority Whip Troy Singleton’s (D-Burlington) medical cannabis homegrow bill as A 997. Assembly Speaker Pro-Tempore Benjie Wimberly (D-Passaic) is sponsoring A 3657 as well. His position is a recognition of his seniority in the chamber by his caucus versus the elected leader of the chamber, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex). Wimberly was previously a supporter of the adult-use cannabis legalization implementation bill CREAMMA.
Gopal’s district mates Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey (D) sponsored the bill in the Assembly during the last session. Unfortunately, they lost their bids for re-election last November while Gopal squeaked by.
Many cannabis industry professionals, especially those who work at cannabis corporations that are Multi-State Operators (MSOs), do not support homegrow for fear of it cutting into their profits. Others are indifferent. Many of those who were focused on the inclusion of social equity in the industry are working with minority entrepreneurs who want licenses or have moved on to fighting for other social justice issues.