Governor Phil Murphy (D) said he’s open to considering NJ cannabis home cultivation legalization as activists have said two State Senators signed on as sponsors to a bill that allows medical cultivation.
Noted cannabis advocate and journalist Jay Lassiter posed the question online of whether Phil Murphy would support NJ cannabis home cultivation on the NJ News 12 call-in segment “Ask Governor Murphy.”
Phil Murphy and NJ Cannabis Homegrow
Anchor Eric Landskroner asked, “New Jersey voters demand marijuana legalization. But we’re still locking people up for up to five years for growing even one pot plant. Even medical marijuana users. Why?”
“I’m not sure there’s a good answer. It’s something that I would be open-minded to considering adjusting,” Murphy said.
“That’s not to say we’re not going to have a really good, smart regime,” he added.
Phil Murphy was quick to note Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) Chair Dianna Houenou and Executive Director Jeff Brown are working hard on setting up a better cannabis industry.
“They’re putting a world-class industry together. I’m really impressed by it. And again, equity is right at the center of it. But there’s a lot, I think, a legitimate interest in allowing in some form or fashion homegrow. And I would just say I would be open-minded to that discussion,” Murphy said.
Being open-minded to something is not the same as being strongly in support. Murphy pushed cannabis legalization and decriminalization since his first campaign in 2017. However, he has never come out publicly in support of adult-use or medical cannabis home cultivation.
Cannabis Homegrow Politics
Cannabis legalization is arguably the most controversial issue New Jersey has tackled in decades. Without Murphy’s support, it likely would have died. Even with his support, the bill died twice in the legislature, so a referendum had to be held to restart the process.
Landskroner also asked another question to Murphy posed by a member of the public, “Will sellers of cannabis be retroactively cleared when sales begin in 2022?
Murphy said he did not believe they were.
Distribution charges were not included in the decriminalization legalization bill, which went into effect earlier this year.
He noted there have been 362,000 expungements of cannabis criminal records thus far.
“I got to support adult-use purely because of social justice,” he said. “It’s actually happening as we speak. And the industry is being built with equity first and foremost as its objective,” Murphy said.
Industry Versus Justice
Similar to Murphy’s comments, many cannabis advocates were focused on the creation of a just industry where minorities, especially Hispanics and Blacks, can secure a range of licenses in the fight for legalization at the expense of NJ cannabis home cultivation.
While great strides have been made towards that end, cannabis is back to its default position of delay as the adult-use application process is overdue to begin as the 15 dispensary licenses from the 2019 round of medical cannabis applications, a process that started 27 months ago, have yet to be rewarded.
Shortly after legalization was signed into law, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and cannabis sponsor and Judiciary Committee Chair Nick Scutari (D-Union) said they were open to passing NJ cannabis home cultivation reform. However, they have not moved on the issue since then.
While the legislature has been in recess since June, they will return in November for the lame-duck session that ends in January when the new legislature is sworn in. The vast majority of the same legislators will likely be re-elected.
New Medical Cannabis Home Cultivation Sponsors
State Senators Tony Bucco (R-Morris) and Brian Stack (D-Hudson) have told cannabis home cultivation activists they will sponsor the medical cannabis homegrow bill S 3420 sponsored by Troy Singleton (D-Burlington).
Along with Singleton’s medical bill, State Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) is sponsoring S. 3582, which would allow both adult-use and medical cannabis home cultivation.
Sativa Cross Organizer Edward “Lefty” Grimes pushed Stack to support the medical cannabis home cultivation bill. He initially appeared at a Union City council meeting urging disability accommodations for individuals seeking to enter a police station.
Stack voted for the adult-use bill as part of the Judiciary Committee and full Senate but believes Union City, where he is the Mayor, is too densely populated for the crowd an adult-use dispensary would attract. Thus, they opted out. However, he is in favor of medical dispensaries in town.
Senator Anthony M. Bucco (R-Morris) sent a letter to the entrepreneur and activist Savvy Jane, noting he was supporting the bill.
“It’s so freaking exciting!” she said.
“The fact that there are already two Republican state senators supporting it likely helped,” Savvy Jane noted.
State Senators Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) and Kip Bateman (R-Somerset) are indeed backing the medical cannabis home cultivation bill S 3582.
“I feel like patients are really getting the short end of the stick on edibles and the stagnancy of the homegrow bill,” she added.
Savvy Jane noted there’s a shortage of medical cannabis already. It’s likely there will continue to be a shortage allowing dispensaries to charge patients what cannabis activists think is an exorbitant price until more dispensaries are opened under new owners.
“There’s going to be a shortage period, and I think this will kind of alleviate those problems,” she said.
Many had gotten no response or wishy-wash responses from legislators when they reached out.
Savvy Jane noted CMMNJ Board member Jim Miller helped with the letter.
The letter urged him to reach out to Senator Kip Bateman (R-Somerset-16) to discuss it with him.
“Jim Miller deserves the credit on this one. He’s offering to help anyone craft a letter,” Savvy Jane noted.
“It was pretty easy. It was one quick email. The next day I got an email saying he’d support the bill,” she said. “I’m thinking if I can do this in one letter, maybe other people can. Maybe we’ll see some movement.”
It often takes many letters, calls, and conversations to persuade a legislator to support a controversial issue.
Bucco voted against the adult-use bill S 21 and did not vote on the decriminalization bill S 2535. However, as an Assemblyman, he did vote for the Jake Honig Act, which expanded New Jersey’s medical cannabis program and established the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC).
Because the legislature is out of session, the S 3582 bill web page has not been updated with the new sponsors.