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State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden). (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Scutari, Sweeney working on marijuana home grow bill

Proposal, still in early stages, likely to reduce penalties but won’t let residents grow their own cannabis

By Nikita Biryukov, March 08 2021 3:44 pm

Top-ranking Democrats in the Senate are working to draft a bill on homegrown marijuana, but the legislation likely won’t allow New Jerseyans to grow their own cannabis, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

“The first topic was really the significance of the penalties for home growing right now. It’s like drug manufacturing, a serious felony charge,” said State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden). “You do a lot of years if you get caught growing your own marijuana right now, so there’s been just some initial discussions if maybe those penalties are too severe.”

The bill, which would be the second cleanup after Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana use, is still in its early stages, and it’s not yet clear when lawmakers will be ready to introduce the legislation.

Penalties for home grow remain severe even after the state’s legalization. Cultivating 10 or more plants can win a resident between 10 and 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Growing fewer plants can still earn a five-year prison sentence.

“Obviously we don’t want to have those harsh penalties, so we’re working on a cleanup on that too,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who deferred to Scutari for further comment.

New Jersey’s home-grow policy is an outlier among states that have legalized marijuana. All others allow residents to grow their own cannabis, though many only extend the privilege to medical marijuana patients.

It’s not clear where Murphy stands on allowing residents to grow their own Marijuana. He declined to comment on the policy at a press briefing during which he announced his signing of the marijuana bills last month.

In the months between voters approving legalization and Murphy signing into law bills to enable New Jersey’s legal marijuana market, Scutari said home grow was left out of the larger bills because limits on the number of plants residents are allowed to cultivate are unenforceable.

“That continues to be a concern that I have,” he told the New Jersey Globe Monday.

He also feared legalizing home grow would enable black markets in New Jersey and outlying states.

The Union County Democrat said legislators may make a post-pandemic trip to Colorado to learn from the Centennial State’s experience letting residents grow their own cannabis.

“Once the pandemic is over, maybe we’ll go back out there,” Scutari said. “We’ve got some real good connections out there with some of the administration folks, who’ve been really, really nice and open to share their ideas and their ups and downs on the program.”

That could mean home grow won’t move for months.

But it could move sooner. Multiple versions of the bill have already been drafted, Scutari said, though he added legislators “haven’t had a consensus on what we think is best.”

“It’s not that hard to write it once you figure out what it actually is that you want to do,” he said.

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