Thanks to a landslide 67% vote in the November 2020 election, New Jersey was one of the latest American states to legalize the use and sale of cannabis for all adults 21 and older. But while pot shops from Jersey City to Camden will soon open to recreational cannabis users of all kinds, as the legal weed regulations are currently written, the Garden State’s hopeful amateur marijuana cultivators will be left out of the equation.
The debate over the legalization of cannabis home grows has raged for years in New Jersey’s medical marijuana industry, but with the recent legalization of recreational use, advocates and legislators are now fighting for personal cultivation for all.
According to a new report from NJ.com, Republican State Senator Gerald Cardinale introduced a bill in late January to supplement Jersey’s adult-use weed regulations with a rule that would allow residents to grow up to six pot plants at home. Despite the leadership of a Democratic legislature and Governor, the state’s left-wing has staunchly opposed home cultivation, citing a desire to track every pot plant grown from the time it is planted until it is harvested and sold at a dispensary.
“Managing the program from ‘seed to sale’ as we say is the most conservative way for a state to go about doing that, so home grow in general is a pretty complex variable I think that lawmakers now believe they don’t have the time — and frankly, the vote — to adequately address at the moment,” Ryan Magee, cannabis attorney at Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti, told NJ.com.
With a market structure built to benefit large, deep-pocketed corporate cultivation over small independent growers though, many existing medical patients and recreational use activists predict that the Garden State’s high prices on medical marijuana will carry over into the adult-use industry. If home grow provisions are not passed, some worry that low-income residents could be priced out of the legal weed market.
“The people of New Jersey made it clear in November that they want to lift the prohibition on cannabis,” Sen. Cardinale said in a statement announcing the home grow bill. “Since then, the Legislature has spent three months fumbling around with what should have been a simple task, and complicated the legalization effort with countless fees, licensing, and extra layers of bureaucracy.”
Outside of New Jersey, home grow has been one of the most frequent and complex issues to arise in the aftermath of both medical and full-scale recreational cannabis legalization. States like California and Oregon blazed a path, allowing liberal medical marijuana home grow laws to carry over into adult-use regulations. Now, Golden Staters can grow up to six plants at home, while Oregon residents can grow up to four plants at a time.
In Arizona, where weed was legalized for recreational use on the same November 2020 day that Jersey ended pot prohibition, the adult-use law comes with a built-in home grow provision, expanding the state’s highly restricted cultivation laws under medical-only legalization.
Even though most West Coasters can legally plant pot in their backyard gardens, Washington State’s longtime legalization law does not include home grow. Now, as marijuana law reform sweeps the nation, Evergreen State legislators have renewed a push for home grow, with a new bill introduced in January that would allow Washingtonians to grow their own six plants at home.
“Prohibiting home grow is an antiquated policy and it is time for us to evolve,” Washington State Representative Shelley Kloba, the primary sponsor of the home grow bill, said in a statement.
No matter where you look, proposals for home grow laws, like most cannabis legalization initiatives, are targeted by law enforcement and their lobbyists. Cops argue that home growth attracts criminal actions like robbery and illegal pot sales. But with years of data now in the books from states like California, Oregon, and even Washington D.C., those fears have yet to come to fruition in any measurable way.
Just like the fight for cannabis legalization on a whole, the decision to allow home grow or not is largely an arbitrary decision made by regulators and weed users themselves. And like legalization, home grow regulations have evolved like a patchwork dotting the states, with 17 states and D.C. allowing some form of personal cultivation and the rest of the legal weed landscape outlawing home grow altogether.
In the Midwest, Illinois and Michigan are two of the latest states to legalize adult-use cannabis sale and consumption. But while all Michigan residents of age are allowed to grow up to 12 plants for personal use, Illinois only allows registered medical patients to grow their own, and only in strictly regulated indoor spaces. On the East Coast, New Jersey’s struggles are shared by activists in Pennsylvania and New York’s medical programs, while any adult in Vermont or Maine is able to propagate their own pot garden without worrying about interference from the police.
It is still unclear if New Jersey legislators will follow through on Sen. Cardinale’s home grow proposal. Until federal legalization in the states finally sets firm laws for personal pot cultivation across the US though, odds are that activists, lawmakers, and law enforcement in every corner of the country will continue to battle over citizens’ right to grow a state-legal plant in their basement or backyard.
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia. His work has appeared on Vice, Complex, Merry Jane, and more. You can find him on Twitter @PotCzach