NJ’s Attorney General Gurbir Grewal usually has a solid track record on marijuana.
One example was a memo he issued , pending last November’s election urging prosecutors to adjourn most non-violent cannabis charges. Then, after NJ voters legalized pot by a lopsided margin, the AG issued another directive governing dismissals of certain pending marijuana charges. That meant “all prosecutors operating under the authority of the laws of the State of New Jersey to dismiss pending marijuana-related charges.”
Most recently, AG Grewal eliminated mandatory minimums for non-violent pot offenses meaning anyone doing time for non-violent drug convictions will be re-sentenced.
In all, it’s a giant leap toward making whole those arrested for something voters just legalized.
When I interviewed Grewal back in 2018, our post-chat banter covered NJ’s punitive approach to growing your own weed. In New Jersey, one pot plant equals 5 years in jail and this includes medical cannabis users as well! Enrollment in NJ’s (very expensive) medical cannabis program offers no legal protection to anyone busted growing their own weed.
This approach puts NJ out-of-step with other medical cannabis states where home cultivation is permitted.
Legalizing the home cultivation requires a legislative fix from Trenton lawmakers who’ve thus far shown little concern for the whole “5 years in jail for one plant” thing.
So maybe the Attorney General could step in?
“You should issue some guidance for prosecutors to handle home grow arrests differently, especially for medical patients,” I told the AG at the time.
When the Attorney General paused to contemplate the suggestion that he basically decriminalize home cultivation, I thought maybe I overstepped. I was there to interview him, not to tell him how to do his job.
“That’s actually a good idea,” he replied, placating me with flattery.
That was nearly 3 years ago. It’s still a good idea. Encouraging prosecutors to use discretion and not throw the book at pot growers is always a good idea. But instead of protecting home gardeners from 5 years in jail, New Jersey’s Attorney General is now guardian of the marketshare for the cartel also known as NJ’s medical marijuana program.
Our AG announced his intentions in a Tweet:
“Have you heard about businesses that ‘gift’ marijuana w/ the purchase of snacks or other items? This isn’t the kind of cannabis business allowed by NJ’s new law. We’re warning these businesses to stop unlawful practices that could undercut the legal market.”
AG Grewal sent cease-and-desist letters to several cannabis delivery/gifting businesses who’ve sprung up since last November when NJ voters legalized cannabis. So seven months later, and Trenton lawmakers (and regulators) have yet to demonstrate what the path to legalization looks like in NJ. How long are we supposed to wait for Trenton to carry out the very loud demands of NJ voters?
Now in the meantime, the Attorney General is going after pot businesses who are filling the vacuum created by Trenton’s ongoing lack of leadership on marijuana. .
It goes something like this: You simply ring ’em up, order some very expensive munchies which they’ll deliver along with “free pot”- a gift with purchase – along with your munchie treats. Their gifting menu includes edibles which still are not available at NJ dispensaries.
My friend and press colleague Amy Z. Quinn heard a radio ad for Sky High Munchines, one of the targets of the AG’s letter. Ms. Quinn tried it out and then wrote about it for NJ.com:
“The whole experience was as normal as the Whole Foods order that arrived a few hours later, and about as pricey. Total bill: A hefty $275, including $50 delivery fee. The transaction, confirmed by phone and with an emailed receipt, felt as safe as ordering a pizza. Best of all, I’m not driving around with weed in the car, a risk I assume is factored into the delivery cost.”
Attorney General Grewal was not impressed.
“In legalizing adult-use cannabis in New Jersey, the Legislature made it clear they were creating a regulated market with restrictions on how that market operates,” Attorney General Grewal noted. “Instead of waiting for those regulations to be established, some vendors have decided to move forward on their own, in ways that the law does not allow. Today we’re making it clear that we will not permit these entities to undermine the regulated cannabis marketplace the Legislature created or to compete unfairly with properly licensed cannabis businesses.”
Good intentions may be at play here.
CC’d on these cease-and-desist letters is Kaitlin A. Caruso, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs at the NJ Attorney General’s office. Maybe Grewal thinks he’s protecting cannabis users from unscrupulous blackmarket businesses looking to cash in on NJ’s appetite for weed. But by going after entrepreneurs who deliver cannabis, NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has picked a fight with every person in NJ who depends on the black market to access their medicine.
And that’s a lot of us.
If the Attorney general truly wanted to protect the rights of NJ cannabis consumers, his team should focus on a medical cannabis program that operates more like a cartel and who, lacking competitors and price controls, are still still selling mediocre weed for $500 and ounce, cash only.
Five years in jail for a pot plant is a shameful track record for a state that just legalized cannabis. Likewise, $500 for an ounce of mediocre dispensary weed remains our embarrassing status quo.
That’s where our Attorney General’s attention should be.
And surely not on a small handful of cannabis start ups that are thriving outside of regulation.
Jay Lassiter is an award-wining writer and podcaster and also an enduring Oxford comma zealot. Got a nomination for the 2nd edition of InsiderNJ’s Cannabis Power List, a tribute to political influential voices in the cannabis debate?! Email Lassiter.firstname.lastname@example.org.