The governor of New Jersey says the state should “revisit” its current criminalization of homegrown marijuana for personal use—but he thinks that conversation should happen at a later point after the commercial market has matured.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has frequently been asked about the lack of a home grow option in New Jersey’s cannabis program, and he’s expressed openness to the proposal before. But he made clear during a Q&A session on WNYC radio on Monday that he doesn’t think the time is right to enact that additional reform.
A caller framed the question to the governor in a pointed way, asking when in the marijuana plant’s life cycle it actually becomes legal. The current policy, he said, “makes it seem, respectfully, that it’s that the plant itself is not really legal—but the ability to make money off of the plant is legal.”
Murphy said it was a “good question.”
“I’m not sure I’m the right guy to ask the existential question of when does the plant become the reality here, so I’ll leave that to someone else,” the governor said. “I’m of the opinion that we should revisit that question at some point. And I’m not sure when the right time is to revisit it.”
Listen to the governor discuss marijuana home grow below, starting around 35:58 into the audio below:
“I think we need to get the industry probably either more on its feet or completely on its feet,” the governor said. “It’s going really well. The good news is it’s going really, really well. But we don’t have enough locations yet and I want to see a little bit more maturity in the market.”
The WNYC host followed up by asking if the problem is that “individual people who want to grow their own don’t really have the presence—they don’t have a lobbyist, they don’t have the ability to get the legislature to move the way the cannabis industry can.”
Murphy conceded that that “could be” the case, but he pivoted to saying that the administration and regulators are “doing a very good job” of standing up the market, and he pointed to the issuance of conditional cannabis business licenses as an example of how the state is working to reach a level of acceptable maturation.
He also recognized that the process has “taken longer than any of us would like.”
The governor emphasized that he doesn’t want to create an industry dominated by “the big guys,” and conditional licenses are one way that the state is empowering people with limited access to capital, especially for “women-, minority- and veteran-owned” businesses.
“I want everybody, particularly the folks who are impacted so badly by the war on drugs,” to be able to participate in the marijuana marketplace, Murphy said.
Meanwhile, some New Jersey lawmakers are criticizing the lack of a home grow option and calling for expanded reform.
In an interview with NorthJersey.com that was published on Tuesday, Sen. Vin Gopal (D) said he’s long been concerned about the “corporate aspect” of cannabis legalization, in terms of out-of-state interests coming in and taking over the market.
“But the number one thing we need to do is allow folks to have some kind of home grow options,” he said. “At a minimum, the medical piece is really important because you got a lot of people who have different health issues, and home grow is relevant to them.”
“That’s something that a lot of folks on both sides of the aisle agree on, [to] try to make sure New Jersey residents have that right,” he said. “To arrest somebody, or going to jail for growing some plants, is absolutely insane.”
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R) echoed his colleague’s remarks and pointed out that the state allows adults to brew their own beer and make their own wine.
“If you’re a conservative Republican, you can’t have that dichotomy where government insists that it is the be-all-and-end-all and is not only going to not permit you to do it, but arrest you if you do it,” he said. “That’s a problem.”
Both senators introduced a medical cannabis home grow bill at the beginning of the year, but it has not advanced out of committee.
Separately, the New Jersey Assembly recently approved a bill that would allow licensed marijuana businesses to deduct certain expenses on their state tax returns, a partial remedy as the industry continues to be blocked from making federal deductions under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E.
While the adult-use market is still developing, it’s already proven profitable, with the state reporting about $80 million in marijuana sales in the first ten weeks after retailers opened shop in April.
A bill filed by Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D) over the summer would also authorize the governor to enter into agreements for interstate marijuana commerce with other states that have legalized cannabis. However, the agreements could only be forged if federal law changes, or if the Justice Department issues guidance permitting such activity.
The Senate president separately filed legislation to legalize psilocybin in New Jersey, and it includes provisions that would allow people to cultivate the psychedelic at home.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.