The New Jersey legislature began a new session with several anti-NJ cannabis consumer bills and two for legal home grow introduced.
Welcome to 2024, when regulated cannabis is expected to be a billion-dollar industry in New Jersey. Every penny of those profits and taxes will be extracted from the pockets of consumers.
We should be rewarded for spending all this coin and contributing millions to government coffers. But the good bills to allow home cultivation or allow medical cannabis costs to be covered by state healthcare have languished for years.
Instead, elected officials are looking to increase the political potency of weed and reduce consumer protections. No breaks as the New Jersey Legislature has been quite active in Trenton.
Lame Toke Session
A lame-duck session in the first week of January of the New Jersey legislature saw lightning-fast passage for S4268. The bill that seeks to ease Conflicts of Interest rules to allow more political involvement with cannabis business ownership. Any number of state and municipal officials, both elected and appointed, could stand to benefit from this move.
S4268 was sponsored by none other than Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Union). It was swiftly passed by all committees and passed floor votes in both chambers without any testimony.
The NJ Conflicts of Interest rules for officials, covering mayors to the Governor, party leadership, and everyone in between, are fairly strict with 201 mentions of the word “cannabis.”
New Jersey Cannabis Home Grow Still Blocked By Scutari
Notably, while Senator Scutari knows how to fast-track bills, he’s also been the only thing holding up cannabis home cultivation. Several other Senators went on record last year* to confirm that Scutari was single-handedly stalling both homegrow bills by using his position to remove them from committees’ agendas, thus preventing any votes.
Heady NJ documented an encounter between registered patients and Scutari during the lame-duck session. He was terse and dismissive about home cultivation, as usual.
Why is this dude so anti-garden? Scutari’s line has always been that he won’t allow it until he feels the cannabis industry has matured … in some inexplicable way.
Notably, it’s been about eleven years since the first NJ regulated medical cannabis sales occurred at a dispensary in Montclair in Essex County.
The original NJ Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA) had a provision for patients to grow up to six plants. It was Senator Scutari and Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) who teamed up to delete that language.
Scutari clearly sees himself as a champion for certain industry players. In 2022, he vehemently pushed the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission to quickly issue lucrative first-mover adult-use permits to a small group of large corporations.
The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) complied. Curaleaf, Columbia Care, TerrAscend, and the like have happily charged consumers $60 per 1/8th while racking up fines for busting unions and even misdirecting medical patients.
Last year Sen. Scutari and others dragged the NJCRC staff before a hearing at the State House and threatened to curtail their regulatory powers.
Oddly, this was in response to the NJCRC leveling some shallow fines and temporarily pulling the permits of a few companies for some egregious violations.
When large corporations enjoy the obvious protection of state politicians, it’s always working-class consumers who get a bad deal.
Good, Bad, Ugly Bills Filed
The 2024 NJ Legislative agenda has more than forty bills already filed that could directly impact cannabis policy. Unfortunately, it appears to be the most anti-consumer agenda since Prohibition.
A majority of the bills seek to increase fines, re-criminalize possession for those under 18, or even fund a variety of law enforcement programs designed to target cannabis consumers.
Along with finally passing home cultivation, there will likely be some major fights to maintain NJ Cannabis consumer rights this session.
We’ll have updates and alerts posted at NORML’s Action Center in the coming weeks.
Here’s a rundown of the bills that could impact NJ cannabis consumers:
Authorizes home cultivation of medical cannabis.
Legalizes possession of six or fewer marijuana plants, subject to enactment of legislation legalizing marijuana or cannabis for personal use.
A898 – GOOD
Establishes program to subsidize purchase price of medical cannabis for registered qualifying patients enrolled in Medicaid or NJ FamilyCare programs.
Creates certain protections for insurers and insurance producers engaging in business of insurance in connection with cannabis-related businesses.
Authorizes cannabis cultivation on land receiving farmland assessment.
Allows costs of medical cannabis to be reimbursed by Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund, PAAD, Senior Gold and VCCO.
S1809 – GOOD
Establishes New Jersey Community Learning Program in DOE to provide comprehensive after school programs in certain communities; dedicates portion of State cannabis revenue to support program.
A887 – BAD
Requires Cannabis Regulatory Commission to annually report number of cannabis applications submitted and permits or licenses issued to certain persons.
A2394 – BAD
Requires New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education include content on risks of cannabis and marijuana use.
Directs Cannabis Regulatory Commission to adopt regulations concerning labeling, marketing, and sale of cannabidiol and products containing cannabidiol; prohibits sale of cannabidiol to minors.
Establishes task force on cannabis related traffic fatalities.
Prohibits location and operation of cannabis retailers near schools or places of worship.
Permits law enforcement agencies to prohibit recreational use of cannabis items by law enforcement officers.
Codifies certain cannabis packaging requirements; establishes offense for minor gaining access to improperly stored cannabis products.
Clarifies that unlawful gifting of marijuana or cannabis is prohibited under “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act.”
Permits Governor to authorize interstate commercial cannabis activity in certain circumstances.
A1543 – TERRIBLE
Directs that cannabis product be stored or kept in locked container; establishes civil penalty for violation.
Establishes THC potency limits for cannabis products.
Permits employers to prohibit use of cannabis by certain employees.
Requires notification to appropriate departments if drug court participant tests positive for marijuana or cannabis.
Requires temporary detention and notification to parent or guardian of underage person who unlawfully purchases or possesses alcoholic beverages or cannabis.
Reinstates penalty for underage possession and consumption of alcohol and cannabis as disorderly person offense
Requires Superintendent of State Police to publish cannabis-related fatal motor vehicle crash statistics.
Allows municipality to establish alcohol-free and cannabis-free areas and to impose civil penalties for violations.
Establishes increased penalties for smoking cannabis or marijuana on public beaches.
Removes criminal liability for law enforcement officers who have investigative encounter with underage person for possession of alcohol or cannabis unless civil rights are violated.
Establishes Division on Marijuana and Cannabis Enforcement in DLPS.
By Chris Goldstein
Chris Goldstein is a writer based in New Jersey. For the last 25 years he’s been a cannabis consumer activist. Today, he is a regional organizer in NJ, PA, and DE for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
In 2013 Goldstein started one of the first dedicated weekly cannabis columns in America for the Philadelphia Inquirer called “Philly420”. During 2017 he created the “Marijuana in the News” class at Temple University’s Journalism Department. In 2017 Goldstein also received NORML’s Hunter S. Thompson Award for cannabis writing.
He formerly served on the Board of Directors at NORML chapters in Philadelphia and New Jersey and on the Board of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey. From 2005 to 2008, Goldstein hosted National NORML’s weekly and daily audio podcasts that were top-ranked on iTunes.