The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, has made it clear for many years that he opposes any kind of common sense marijuana law reform. That leaves thousands of people in New Jersey in a precarious legal position.
Despite causing harm to no one, these people face incarceration, steep fines and a criminal record, all for doing something many no longer consider a real crime. In fact, many people who qualify to legally own marijuana under the state's medical marijuana program are likely breaking the law by making the choice to grow their own instead of trying to find a place to buy it.
While the state does license dispensaries and growers, for many with long-term and disabling medical conditions like multiple sclerosis or post traumatic stress disorder, buying marijuana simply doesn't fit in the budget. Other people with less serious conditions that cannot qualify for the state program may also choose to grow their own marijuana. Unfortunately, growing any amount of marijuana without licensing from the state medical marijuana program is a felony offense. In fact, those who get charged with growing marijuana, even for their own use, face stricter penalties than those who sell it.
Growing marijuana is a felony with punishments accordingly
Even if you have a medical condition, you likely won't get permitted to discuss medical use of marijuana as part of your criminal defense. Those who are part of the state program for medical marijuana will also likely not get to discuss their state certification. Defending against marijuana cultivation charges is difficult. Those who get caught growing or cultivating marijuana plants will face charges based on the number of plants or their total weight.
Any number of plants, from one to ten, with a weight of less than five pounds, carries a three-year minimum sentence. Those accused could receive up to five years in jail, as well as a fine of $25,000. For those caught with between 10 and 50 plants, the minimum sentence increases to five years, but could go up to 10 years. The fine in this case is $150,000. For those with more than 50 plants, which could easily be required to help a seriously ill person with marijuana extracts, the penalties include between ten and twenty years in jail and a fine of $300,000.
Looking forward to a new governor who can appreciate the potential tax benefits of a legalization and taxation scheme, state lawmakers are already working to change marijuana laws. For the time being, however, those who need access to medical marijuana in New Jersey or who choose to grow their own for any reason should take great care, as the criminal penalties could alter the course of their lives.