For Medical Cannabis Patients, the Situation is Dire


BY JO ANNE ZITO – As a New Jerseyan seriously harmed by cannabis prohibition, I’m concerned with the fact that even though we legalized it, people in the state can still go to jail for growing it.

I’m also concerned that people who’ve been disadvantaged by prohibition may have a hard time affording legal or medicinal cannabis and feel that home grow is an equity provision that’s an integral part of legalization for social justice.

In an interview regarding home grow legislation, Sen. Nicholas Scutari suggested legislators wait and possibly make a post-pandemic trip to Colorado to learn from their experience with home grow.

He also noted that home grow was left out of our legalization because limits on the number of plants are unenforceable and because he feared it would enable the illicit market in New Jersey and outlying states.

I feel there’s no need to wait or to take another trip.

Colorado’s most recent report on the issue shows an increase in cannabis cultivation arrests but states the increase may be in part because of the law on indoor plant count changing from 99 plants to 12. This change happened after legislators’ legalization fact-finding trip there.

Further, law enforcement officials testified that the large allowable amount is what made it hard to eliminate illegal growers and that reducing the grow limit helps agencies more effectively identify and stifle illegal operations.

They don’t deny legal home grow and even with it Colorado seems to be doing well selling more than $2 billion in legal marijuana in 2020.

As far as Scutari’s concern for home grown cannabis going out of state, since NJ legalized cannabis, four more states legalized with home grow, making NJ the only state out of eighteen legalized states plus Washington DC that doesn’t allow it.

New York legalized marijuana with home grow for adults in March, but the law stipulates a waiting period of 18 months after the first adult-use retail sales before they can start growing.

Thankfully, Sen. Vin Gopal introduced bill, S3582, allowing adults to grow for medical and personal use saying, “We shouldn’t be criminalizing growing a plant if voters already made it legal.”

LD 11 colleagues followed with a companion bill, A5552, with Assemblywoman Joann Downey saying home grow would tremendously help those who need to fill their prescription but may struggle financially. Assemblyman Houghtaling believes there’s an issue when we legalize marijuana, but still punish people for growing it at home.

Since one of Sen. Scutari’s reasons for leaving home grow out is so industry can flourish, I’ve suggested to him and other legislators to amend S3582 to have a waiting period like NY. This is a fair compromise.

For medical cannabis patients the situation is dire. Not only do they still not have delivery, but some still have trouble getting appointments, needed products and we still have some of the highest priced cannabis in the country.

Despite prices, quality remains an issue as there is a recall of two batches of cannabis from the state’s largest grower due to mold contamination. The first batch was from the end of December and wasn’t recalled until mid-March, doing little to protect the many that had already consumed it.

Home grow helps give better control and access to needed cultivars and is therapeutic in itself. Personal gardens can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

Sen. Singleton introduced, S3420, allowing patients to grow, because he understands the issue of people needing this medicine in many cases to replace opioids but not being able to use it or sustain using it because of price.

Singleton also supports S3582 because he believes more support for this option is a good thing.

Before his death, Sen. Gerald Cardinale introduced a bill allowing adults to grow, because he believed it was part of ending prohibition and the intent of the voters.

This aligns with the 2018 Rutgers Eagleton poll results on marijuana legalization which shows that residents believe they should be able to cultivate marijuana for personal use with 60% opposed to banning it opposed to 33% for such a ban.

What sets NJ’s legalization apart from almost every other legalized state is that our legalization was spearheaded by industry lobbyists rather than a typical ballot written by the cannabis consuming community like in other states.

Founder of the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association, Pete Cammarano, was appointed Gov. Murphy’s Chief of Staff and his former business partner, Kevin Hagan, founder of the New Jersey Marijuana Retailers Association formerly served as Senate President Steve Sweeney’s Chief of Staff and the CEO of the NJ Democratic State Committee among other government roles.

Hagan is one of the top paid lobbyists in NJ along with Phil Norcross, who was hired by Acreage Holdings, one of the nation’s largest cannabis companies, when it partnered with Compassionate Care Foundation here.

In a recent Princeton Public Affairs Group discussion on the future of cannabis in NJ, Hagan advises against the home grow bills, even for patients and cites the same outdated Colorado issue that Sen. Scutari does.

If he’s saying this now, what do we think he’s advised his former boss, Sen. Sweeney, since forming NJMRA in late 2017?

During NY’s quest for legalization, it was discovered that the NY Medical Cannabis Industry Association composed of multi-state operators (MSOs) some of which operate in NJ, lobbied against home grow in their policy statement to Governor Cuomo.

In the memo lies, ‘The Fallacy of Home Grow’ listing five reasons why home grow shouldn’t be allowed. These are the same reasons given by Scutari and Hagan, yet are deemed disingenuous by advocates.

While industry lobbying is standard practice, lobbying against the people in this way in a law created to repair the harms of prohibition, seems wrong.

It undermines the social justice intent of the law and the intent of the voters. Friends have died waiting for better access.

Governor Murphy recently gave a nod to home grow in a WHYY interview, saying he knows home growing arguments are compelling so that’s something he thinks deserves a reasonable discussion.

NJ allows for beer and wine production at home by adults and I think voters rightfully expect the same with cannabis.

I’m extremely thankful to the legislators supporting these bills, especially Senator Cardinale and I ask legislative leadership to do right by the people and patients by sponsoring/co-sponsoring S3582 and having a hearing on it.

Supporters please contact your legislators and tell them to sponsor and have hearings for these bills!’

 Jo Anne Zito heads the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey. 

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