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Homegrown marijuana proposed for New Jersey

A top lawmaker has proposed allowing residents to cultivate up to six cannabis plants indoors if recreational marijuana becomes legal in the state.

NJ Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Trenton)
NJ Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Trenton)Read morehandout

Should New Jersey residents be able to grow their own marijuana at home?

A top-ranking Garden State assemblyman thinks so.

Reed Gusciora (D., Mercer) is the deputy majority leader in the Assembly and a prosecutor in Lawrence Township. He's also running to be mayor of New Jersey's capital city.

Gusciora believes residents should be allowed to cultivate up to six cannabis plants indoors for their personal use if recreational marijuana becomes legal in the state.

"Looking at the marijuana laws in place in California, Oregon, Washington and the like, I thought that homegrown should be an essential element of the New Jersey law, too," Gusciora said.

The state's recently installed governor, Phil Murphy, made full legalization of marijuana a signature issue of his campaign. Bills are pending in both the Assembly and the Senate.

Any marijuana grown for personal consumption would have to be tended "indoors, in controlled environments." That's because many of his colleagues fear the worst.

"They have visions of kids jumping over fences to steal Mrs. Smith's marijuana plants," he said.

Gusciora's language has been amended to the legislation pending in the lower house. He said the Assembly language would have to be "melded" with the Senate bill, sponsored by Nicolas Scutari (D., Union), for the homegrown provision to become law.

Legalized  recreational marijuana is far from certain. According to a Fairleigh Dickinson poll released Feb. 1, only 42 percent of New Jersey voters approve of full legalization. Some towns already plan to ban legal marijuana sales before the law can be put to a vote.

Gusciora, one of the original sponsors of the state's medical marijuana legislation, said he became an advocate for legal weed after one of his constituents was diagnosed with brain cancer. The man's parents had a difficult time finding cannabis for their son to battle nausea brought on by chemotherapy.

As a prosecutor, Gusciora said marijuana arrests result in costly legal bills for both the consumers and law enforcement. His office regularly handles  "two or three cases every court session," he said. They're not cases he enjoys prosecuting.

"Ninety percent of the arrests on the municipal level are about a joint found in an ashtray," he said. "The person faces up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, a six-month loss of their driver's license and $800 in other fees that the state assesses."

Then there's the long line of police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and lab technicians that are required to prosecute each case.

"It's an expensive proposition for everyone," he said.