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Home Grow Advocates Re-New Efforts at NJ State House

Home grow advocates organized their largest effort to lobby legislators in a while at the New Jersey State House last week.

Despite New Jersey’s adult-use cannabis legalization and implementation, home grow remains a felony.

It was held the same day as the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) meeting after it was moved from the 20th to the 27th.

The New Jersey chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of NJ (CMMNJ), and Sativa Cross organized with the support of the ACLU.

They organized the largest effort solely focused on homegrow since before the pandemic. 

“It was NORML NJ’s first time in a while. It went well. We’re going to keep building support and adding co-sponsors and hopefully talk to leadership,” National NORML Vice Chair Evan Nison said.

He anticipated securing further bipartisan support.

“I’m confident we’ll be able to get movement on that,” Nison said.

Cannabis Lobbying

They met with Assemblywoman Verlina Renoylds Jackson (D-Mercer), who is sponsoring both home grow bills to provide information and strategize further action. 

A 997 is the medical cannabis homegrow bill where Renoylds Jackson is the only sponsor. Its companion bill, S 342, has more support with Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), Anthony Bucco( R-Morris), Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), Jean Stanfield (R-Burlington) and Robert Singer (R-Ocean) sponsoring it.

Reynolds Jackson is co-sponsoring the adult-use and medical homegrow bill A 3657 with Benji Wimberly (D-Passaic). 

Diegnan, Turner, Stanfield, and Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex, Mercer, Somerset, Hunterdon) are co-sponsoring the adult-use and medical homegrow bill in the State Senate S 353. 

State Senators Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) are co-prime sponsors of both bills in the State Senate.

Legislative Manuvering

S 353 has been referred to the Judiciary Committee chaired by Brian Stack (D-Hudson). Cannabis sponsor and now State Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Union)formerly chaired it. S 3657 has been referred to the Health Committee chaired by Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex).

“We had a meeting with the Assemblywoman, and it was productive,” West Milforward Councilman Michael Chazukow, a longtime NORML advocate, said. He was elected as a Republican and identifies himself as a libertarian.

Chazukow was optimistic they could get more support.

“I’m under the impression that there is support for that, and I am eager to get people on the record and have them officially co-sponsor the bill,” Chazukow said.

CCMMNJ Executive Director Ken Wolski and board members Jim Miller and Peter Rosenfeld were there to lobby.

“I think the efforts are fine. I don’t think they’re being received as well as I would like them,” Miller said. “A lot goes on about legislators that we don’t know, on how they do business. There are things at play unknown. If a patient, all they do is ask a senator one thing, to talk to a co-sponsor, how do you say no to that?”

Home Grow Advocacy

TJ Finnerty from Basking Ridge in Somerset County staffed the CCMNJ table outside while the leaders were lobbying. He was passionate about the need for home grow.

“I am a 12 stepper with 36 years AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). I personally came off 12 psychiatric pharmaceuticals with one flower, lost 180 lbs,” he explained. “I’m fighting for people in 12-step recovery to rely on God for overcoming dependency, not doctors. Our garden is the way to get over drugs.”

“Greed is ripping off our rights,” Finnerty added.

He had a red hat with a cannabis leaf that said MAGA. He explained it meant Marijuana Makes America Great Again.

“I’m trying to turn Trump. I am a one-issue guy. I want our plants free,” Finnerty said.

The activist podcast group Sativa Cross set up outside the State House Annex. Home grow advocates gather there after lobbying. Edward “Lefty” Grimes and Chris Almada led the podcast. Lefty was recently on Heady NJ’s home grow panel at the 420 Expo in Edison. He has been consistently protesting outside Scutari’s office for home grow.

Fighting the Good Fight

On the show, medical homegrow advocate Tracey McHugh noted the need for rare specialized strains that medical dispensaries run out of or don’t carry.

Almada said he had lobbied his Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-Morris) in the past, and she was open to the idea.

Cannabis businesswoman Susan Wotasek Sciarretto and other activists, such as Jay Lassiter and Sativa Cross’ Wednesday Mayer (who will be speaking at Heady NJ’s Working in South Jersey Cannabis gathering), were there as well to support the cause. 

“This was just to get the momentum started again. There will be a lot more lobby days,” Nison said.

Lobbying is not as dramatic as a protest. During a protest a crowd gathers in favor of advocating for a cause and is often very critical of those who do not support it. When lobbying, one seeks to bump into legislators and persuade them of the worthiness of their cause. It means working within the limited parameters of friendly public policy discussions versus mass confrontation. It helps to be an old friend to have such a pleasant conversation.

A lot of legislation passes without protests for the cause occurring.

The League of Municipalities in Atlantic City conference in November represents a perfect opportunity to lobby. Many take professionals take advantage of it amidst many open bar parties. There will also be three cannabis policy panels on the formal side. NJCRC Chair Diana Houenou on one and cannabis board attorney Ron Mondello on two.

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