cannabis homegrow politics 420 expo

At the 420 Expo, Heady NJ held a cannabis homegrow panel with grassroots advocates on the politics of the issue in the Garden State.

Despite adult-use cannabis legalization, cannabis homegrow remains a felony in New Jersey.

I, Heady NJ Editor Dan Ulloa, moderated the panel with Edward “Lefty” Grimes of Sativa Cross and Jo Anne Zito of the Coalition of Medical Marijuana of New Jersey (CMMNJ).

Lefty noted he was inspired by the late Cheryl Miller, who had Multiple Sclerosis. He noted the need for patients to have strains specifically for their ailments.

“I’m learning more and more about terps (terpenes). They always stay the same. I talked to a patient yesterday who realized there’s three terps she needs,” he said.

“There was homegrow in the initial medical bill, but it was removed. I feel like it’s a disrespect to the patients in the state who have been waiting for access. As patients, we’ve been waiting for this, waiting for real access. I went to jail. My children we removed from my care. Thankfully I was able to get them back,” Zito said.

I noted that homegrow lost with the advent of adult-use cannabis legalization and the push for an industry where small businesspeople, minorities, and those most harmed by the War on Drugs was more important for many advocates than the right to grow.

“There are ppl out there doing it, but it remains a felony,” Zito said.

Lefty accused cannabis legalization sponsor and NJ Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Union) of holding up the homegrow bills.

“We did a protest at Scutari’s office a few months ago. People are coming up to us, “it’s legal. Why are you protesting? What’s with the sign? Most Black and Brown people were unaware. It’s creating a whole new Jim Crow,” he said.

Lefty said that he thought that homegrow was going to be part of the implementation of the referendum adding cannabis legalization to the New Jersey Constitution. He was very unhappy that was not the case.

“We got corporate cannabis shoved down our throats,” Lefty said. “Patients were stepped over. Rich people with money can grow weed, but somebody with cancer can’t grow.”

I noted progress has been made. S 342, sponsored by Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), is a bill to legalize medical homegrow of a reasonable number of plants. Its companion, A 997, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds Jackson (D-Mercer). Adult-use and medical cannabis homegrow would be legalized in the bill S 353 sponsored by State Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) for adult-use and medical. Its companion A 3657 sponsored by Benji Wimberly (D-Passaic) and Reynolds Jackson.

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“It is whole plant medicine. We need all parts of the plant to benefit,” Zito said.

She lamented the nature of the long, dragged-out fight.

“The Senate President is holding them up. I think he’s waiting for more legislators to come on board,” Zito said. “He originally had it in the medical bill. Now I think he’s waiting for the industry to catch up.”

Cannabis Homegrow Politics at the 420 Expo

She noted there is bipartisan support for medical cannabis homegrow.

“My tip for cultivating in new jersey is to contact your legislators,” Zito said.

I noted that although the referendum passed in 2020 by 67 percent because it happened during COVID, no in-person rallies or meetings were held. Because such meetings were not held, people passionate about cannabis did not meet and join with others. There were no rallies for local politicians to attend to court favor and then be lobbied by some of their constituents who attended as well.

“The little conversations that would have happened because of the referendum did not happen,” I said.

This significantly hampered the cannabis legalization movement in New Jersey, which needed to grow to advocate for homegrow and town laws.

It was also noted that the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) has made it very clear they do not have the power to implement cannabis homegrow.

It’s also difficult for many people because of cannabis prohibition to come forward and become well-known advocates since their underground mentality has remained.

“Patients need FECO, Rick Simpson Oil. It’s not available. The medicine is unworkable because it’s unaffordable. You need a pound of weed a month to make FECO. You cannot afford that in New Jersey,” Lefty said.

At the 420 Expo, Zito argued that if patients were allowed to grow, it would normalize cannabis in the first place, which would help local implementation.

“A lot of them aren’t getting prioritized. They’re still having difficulty getting the medicine they need due to price,” she said.

Zito noted she started the Let Patients Grow website with CMMNJ Board member Jim Miller to push the issue. He said that cannabis activist Jeff King urged Gopal to support cannabis legalization and, through the site, became a supporter of cannabis homegrow.

She noted the late Jeff Oakes was an activist with Sativa Cross that they named their effort “Jeff’s Law.”

I noted the issue of homegrow is mired in the issues with New Jersey politics. For example, last year, Gopal’s district mates, Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey (D), were defeated for re-election and replaced with Republicans less interested in homegrow.

Lefty thought it made no difference that former Senate President Steve Sweeney was unexpectedly defeated by Republican Edward Durr and then replaced by Scutari as Senate President.

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“Is it the same? Seems as business as usual,” he said at the 420 Expo.

While Zito agreed with him, I said I had heard that Sweeney was more adamantly opposed to cannabis homegrow than Scutari.

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