New Jersey is about to legalize cannabis, but home growers could still face up to 20 years in jail

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With New Jersey set to legalize recreational cannabis, advocates and researchers are sounding the alarm about legislation that still carries draconian punishments for home growers, Politico reports.

With a Jan. 1, 2021 deadline in mind, neither the proposed legalization bill nor the accompanying decriminalization bill addresses the long-outdated penalties for home growing.

Politico reports that Gov. Phil Murphy, who has been advocating for legalization, is opposed to allowing home cultivation of any kind, for recreational or medical use. A complete ban on home growing would make New Jersey, which is set to become the largest U.S. state on the east coast to legalize cannabis, an outlier compared to other states that have legalized the plant.


As the laws are currently written, growing a single plant could result in three to five years in prison while growing 10 plants could lead to a maximum 20-year sentence if an individual is charged with “maintaining or operating a controlled dangerous substance production facility.” Additionally, the charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence, requiring those convicted to serve at least a third of the sentence.

Ed Forchion, a cannabis advocate known as “NJ Weedman”, told Politico that the lack of action on addressing the home-growing penalties is evidence that the state is looking to reap profits rather than help the communities that have been most impacted by the War on Drugs.

“Big guys, corporations, they can violate federal law in the state of New Jersey and grow tons of marijuana,” Forchion argued. “But a little housewife down in South Jersey wants to grow 10 plants in her backyard, she’ll be treated as a first-degree felon.”

In an opinion piece at, Tom Moran writes that the “draconian penalties” for home growing “are from another era.”

“If we’ve learned anything in the failed drug war, it is this: Long prison terms are not just ineffective, they ruin families, and they are invariably imposed on Black and brown defendants at much higher rates. That leaves them economically crippled for life and widens this country’s crippling racial divide,” Moran notes.

In July, Murphy said cannabis legalization carried “a huge social justice piece.” Noted the governor, “The overwhelming percentage of persons nailed in our criminal justice system are persons of colour. It’s a no-brainer in that respect. It’s a job creator, it’s a tax revenue raiser, it checks a lot of boxes. I hope we’ll get there sooner than later.”

Charles Gormally, an attorney with Brach Eichler law firm and co-chair of the firm’s cannabis industry group, told Politico that he believes the state will change the cultivation laws, eventually.

“I think we’ll get to a place where the contradiction between home-grown cannabis and marketplace cannabis will be reconciled at some level,” Gormally said, adding that the government may be opposed to home cultivation to ensure profits stay in state coffers.

If left uncorrected, he warned that “law enforcement will pivot from worrying about cannabis on the street to worrying about cannabis in your backyard.”

Amol Sinha, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told Politico that the ACLU has advocated for home cultivation as “a matter of economic and racial justice.”

“When we have prices that are in the hundreds of dollars per ounce, there’s going to be a subset of the population that’s priced out of it. And growing at home may be the more cost-effective way to grow the particular strains they may need,” Sinha said.

“There’s also the medical angle to this. Having home grow available to medical patients seems to be the logical next step,” he said.

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