New Yorkers can consume in public, PA lawmakers want to allow edibles, but New Jersey still criminalizes the plant in far too many ways
The tri-state weed race is shaping up to be a marathon.
New Jersey beat neighbors in New York and Pennsylvania out of the gate by starting adult-use cannabis sales in April. But many smokers in The Garden State still face ridiculous hurdles to safe access and consumption, thanks to a few restrictions.
Over the Hudson River in New York City, millions are free to consume anywhere they can smoke tobacco. They just can’t buy it legally quite yet. And across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf is urging PA lawmakers to present a legal framework for a recreational market so he can sign adult-use into law. With 420-friendly Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leading primary polls, help should be on the way soon.
That’s why New Jersey could see its early lead in the tri-state race evaporate, especially if lawmakers and regulators don’t address major holes in the state’s current cannabis policy.
It’s nice that NJ police officers are ready to escort you across the street to one of the state’s 13 (and counting) dispensaries. But that same officer might also bust you for smoking your taxed weed in a local park, in a parked car, or even your rented home or apartment.
Plus, NJ still has strict laws against homegrow and edibles, as law enforcement continues to criminalize a plant that’s projected to make billions for the state.
Here are the four weed laws that must change to create safer and more equitable access across The Garden State.
1. New Jersey must normalize consumption
Today, the only place it is legal to smoke cannabis in New Jersey is in one’s own residence. If you don’t own your home, your landlord must give permission, even to smoke on your porch or out of a window. That complicates things for the roughly 36% of New Jersey households who rent.
Sneaking a joint in a parked car, even as the passenger, could also get you jammed up. And public parks are also forbidden grounds for ganja, making community smoke-outs like the one that happened in Washington Square Park last month impossible.
It all leads to the question: Why would NJ lawmakers and regulators legalize the purchase and possession of weed for all adults without providing safe spaces to consume it?
New Jersey already has a “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) problem, with many towns opting out of legalization, forbidding dispensaries and legal cannabis businesses from setting up shop for fear of attracting unwanted visitors. While NJ’s politics show deep blue in Electoral College maps, not all residents are liberal about weed use, or other political issues.
Highly-regulated consumption lounges are expected to open later this year with CRC approval, but residents and visitors will still need safe public spaces to consume all of the legal weed they are purchasing.
Until laws change, these are the only places you can legally smoke cannabis in New Jersey:
- Your home, if you own it
- Any residence where the homeowner or landlord permits
- A licensed consumption lounge (none are open yet)
2. New Jersey must legalize edibles
Edibles like popular gummies and baked goods are not currently available in New Jersey. Lawmakers claim the ban edibles that resemble real food protects children, a favorite new-age lie of Reefer Madness descendants. But many medical and recreational buyers prefer or require non-smokable cannabis.
Some dispensaries are serving edible pills, lozenges, syrups, and tablets in plain medical packages that don’t resemble food. Others are ignoring the law altogether. But why continue to make companies and consumers tip-toe around the legal grey area?
In April, Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced a bill to allow edibles in their medical marijuana program. But New Jersey lawmakers aren’t showing any urgency on the matter.
Their concern is twofold: regulating safe production of these food and beverage products, and keeping the finished packages out of children’s hands. The CRC is right to take the manufacturing and packaging of edibles seriously, but neither issue should be used as an excuse for any extended delays.
3. New Jersey must legalize home cultivation
The Garden State is the one of only 2 adult-use states that doesn’t allow individuals to grow their own cannabis. And lawmakers aren’t just bringing shame to their state’s nickname with that choice. They’re also hurting medical patients and responsible adults who already voted in droves for legal weed.
Nick Scutari helped get legalization passed in New Jersey. But he’s also one of the biggest opponents blocking home cultivation. Scutari claims that law enforcement said homegrows feed illicit markets in states like Colorado.
But most experts say that doesn’t happen. “More mature markets like Colorado, California, and Oregon have shown is that just simply is not the case,” said DeVaughn Ward, a senior attorney for the national cannabis policy group, Marijuana Policy Project.
Chris Goldstein, a local NORML organizer, told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “[homegrow] is safe. It’s cost effective. And once you learn a few basic techniques, it’s just like growing tomatoes — relatively easy.”
Home cultivation can also protect consumers from price-fixing and corporate monopolies in medical and recreational markets. But until NJ’s homegrow weed laws change, growing 9 plants can get you 3-5 years and a $25,000 fine, growing 10-49 can get you 5-10 years and a $150,000 fine, and growing 50 or more plants can land you 10-20 years with a $300,000 fine.
4. New Jersey must free and forgive all non-violent cannabis offenders
In the months leading up to day one of rec sales, New Jersey police started cracking down on illegal cannabis operations.
Cops seized $243,000 and 100-plus pounds from a Burlington County cash-only business that was selling marijuana, edibles, and psychedelic mushrooms. Another six-figure bust of the Dirty Jerzy Supplies in Englewood were reportedly transporting hundreds of pounds from Massachusetts.
Regulators may think they’re clearing the streets for the legal market to thrive. But they’re really just bringing prohibition into a new corporate-friendly era.
With 40,000 Americans still behind bars for cannabis charges, including many New Jersey residents, lawmakers must free and forgive everyone with non-violent cannabis charges before dubbing legalization a success.
And it’s not just prisoners that deserve freedom, forgiveness, and equity from the Drug War. Their families are owed a piece of this industry, too.
There’s no denying the toll criminalization has taken on those who lost loved ones for years to weed convictions. Now, states like Massachusetts are even giving family members of cannabis offenders a head start on the market. And while NJ’s CRC and legislature have gone the extra mile to prioritize social equity in the state’s new cannabis laws so far, the state is still locking people up over a plant that causes zero harm.
Something’s gotta change.