N.J. bill to legalize weed won’t allow us to grow it. But we can still brew beer at home, right?

November 27, 2018

Strangely, the legislation (S2703) does not allow New Jersey residents to possess cannabis plants. Growing your own would mean risking massive fines or even imprisonment. Watch video

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By Nate Kleinman




New Jersey is on the cusp of finally legalizing cannabis — but it seems lawmakers will not allow ordinary residents to grow the marijuana plant. This is a mistake.

Strangely, the legislation (S2703) does not allow New Jersey residents to possess cannabis plants. Growing your own would mean risking massive fines or even imprisonment. 

Other states have managed to include provisions allowing for home cultivation, albeit with some strict conditions. In Massachusetts, for instance, individuals are allowed to grow up to six mature marijuana plants, but only as long as they are not in public view. This seems sensible enough.

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Even in states where only medical cannabis is legal, qualifying patients or designated caregivers are often allowed to grow at home. In Michigan, such individuals are allowed to grow up to 12 plants at a time, as long as the plants are in a locked facility.

But not even New Jersey’s medical marijuana program allows homegrown cannabis.

If the state government is really interested in regulating legal cannabis “like alcohol,” as the legislation itself declares, home cultivation should be as legal as home brewing.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the main sponsor of S2703 and a major proponent of legalization, claims that homegrown cannabis would be a threat to building a successful cannabis industry in New Jersey, but his argument is laughable on its face: Homegrown tomatoes never stopped supermarkets from selling tomatoes. As with food, it will always be only the few and the proud who have the patience and skill to grow their own.

I happen to be a farmer and I prefer to grow my own food because only then can I know exactly how it was grown. 

I use organic methods, so I have full confidence in my own produce, while I have at best mixed confidence in USDA Certified Organic, knowing that the certification system is far from perfect.

If I want to use cannabis, especially medicinally, I should not be forced to purchase it from someone else. There’s no way of knowing what chemicals were used in its cultivation, where the seeds came from or how fresh it is.

Lawmakers’ failure to include provisions on homegrown cannabis will also hold back New Jersey’s industry as other states take more sensible approaches that lead to innovation. Legal cannabis in those states has sparked an explosion of breeding new strains and experimenting with new growing techniques. It has also created an incredibly lucrative cannabis seed business in many states.

As a plant breeder and seed farmer (focused now mainly on heirloom vegetables and grains), I speak from experience. Seeds can be a great business. One tomato plant produces just a few dozen tomatoes, but the same plant can produce thousands of seeds. Packets of just a a few of them can be sold for $3 each. One plant ends up being worth hundreds of dollars.

The same applies to marijuana, but the numbers are even greater: Seeds from select cannabis strains can actually sell for up to $100 per seed. Per seed! That means a single cannabis plant could be worth tens of thousands of dollars or more.

If the proposed New Jersey law were amended to allow residents to grow their six plants to maturity (even if only three at a time, as some states permit), it would enable home growers to start breeding their own varieties. They could, in turn, sell seeds to the larger, licensed businesses that focus on cultivation, which also have the resources to determine a new strain’s makeup and uses.

If the law is passed as is, New Jersey growers will be forced to buy seeds from Colorado, Oregon or Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.

New Jersey has a long history as a center of innovation in plant breeding, horticulture and seed production. There’s no reason to think we couldn’t become a center for the cannabis industry as well — except that S2703, which was approved by Assembly and Senate committees on Monday, would stifle such innovation before the industry even gets off the ground.

Legalizing cannabis is the right thing to do. But it is possible to do it the wrong way.

This is the Garden State. We should be able to grow our own cannabis.

Nate Kleinman is the co-director of the Experimental Farm Network in Elmer, Salem County. He was also a 2018 Democratic primary candidate for the 2nd Dist. U.S. House seat later won by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew. 

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