Advocacy: Legalization of Homegrown Cannabis Still a Nonstarter in Many States
Legalization of homegrown cannabis is still a nonstarter in many states. An expert argues that it’s time to move ahead with full legalization.
Growing a small number of plants is still illegal in many states, even those that have legalized cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use. There’s a case to be made for changing this policy. Thirty-four states have legalized cannabis for medical or adult recreational use, but of this number, only 18 permit growing cannabis plants at home. David Nathan, MD, a psychiatrist based in New Jersey and founder of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, takes issue with this policy—and has strong reasons for his position.
New Jersey, where Nathan lives and works, is one of those states where homegrown cannabis was once called a “nonstarter,” a policy he finds perplexing. “The state says that the reasons for not legalizing homegrown cannabis is to protect children from access to it, but the real reason is the stigma that continues to surround its use,” Nathan says. “Furthermore, legalization of cannabis was meant to protect people of color from discrimination, but leaving homegrown cannabis out of the equation perpetuates inequities.” These inequities are rooted in who is most likely to grow cannabis and why. According to Nathan, some Black residents of New Jersey, especially those who have a low income, are more likely to grow their own cannabis, largely because “they have more time than money, and it is cheaper to grow cannabis than it is to buy it.”
Cannabis isn’t easy to grow. Unlike growing tomatoes in a backyard vegetable garden, cannabis must be cultivated at a specific temperature and under specific soil conditions, and the plant will flower only if it’s female and the lighting conditions are carefully adjusted over the plant’s lifetime. For these reasons, those who choose to grow their own cannabis are highly motivated and are willing to spend the time to do it right. They also will save a substantial amount of money.
The ability to grow cannabis is a civil liberties issue, as well. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that denying people the right to grow their own cannabis infringes upon their freedom and prevents them from enjoying an otherwise legal substance that’s generally less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.
As it turns out, the people of New Jersey agree with Nathan about homegrown cannabis. According to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll, 60% of New Jersey residents support home cultivation. As Nathan puts it, growing cannabis “is more of a no-brainer than a nonstarter.”
Opponents, however, claim that legalizing homegrown cannabis will make it difficult for police to enforce laws typically in place to limit the number of plants grown to five or six. According to Nathan, though, this, too, is dubious. “The home cultivation laws have worked well in those states that have them. And police can count for themselves when they investigate a cannabis grower,” Nathan says. “It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out.”
On the medical side are equally good reasons to support legalization of growing cannabis. Depending on the condition being treated, some patients may need a strain of cannabis their local dispensary doesn’t carry. For example, some patients may require a particular ratio of THC to CBD; if their required ratio is unavailable, those individuals may have no choice but to grow their own.
For Nathan, this concern is personal. His father is one of almost 100,000 patients enrolled in the New Jersey Medicinal Marijuana Program, and the type of cannabis he needs isn’t found in local dispensaries. “For my father and patients like him, homegrown cannabis is close to a medical necessity.”
Laws Vary From State to State
To date, the following 18 states that have fully legalized cannabis for medical and recreational use and have legalized home growing for both purposes include the following: Washington, Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nevada, Montana, Missouri, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maine, Hawaii, Colorado, California, Arizona, and Washington, D.C.
Five states, Michigan, Colorado, Massachusetts, California, and Oregon, stand out as having the most favorable laws for cannabis growers. All of these states require that cannabis be cultivated only by individuals at least 21 years old. The number of plants varies, from four plants in Oregon to 12 plants in Michigan, with six being the average legal limit. Michigan’s laws are particularly favorable for cultivation. Cannabis may be grown either indoors or outdoors, but plants can’t be visible to the public. Although cannabis can be grown outdoors, Michigan’s unpredictable weather makes indoor growing a more favorable option.
It’s clear that cultivating cannabis at home is still in its infancy, but that likely will change in the near future. As the number of states that legalize cannabis increases, the likelihood is that more states will legalize growing as well. “In New Jersey, legislators from both sides of the aisle have proposed bills to legalize limited home production,” Nathan says. “I think it is inevitable that this policy will eventually be reversed.
“First, we put people in prison, and now we’re putting cannabis in prison,” Nathan continues. “We know how to keep cannabis away from kids, and there is also ample evidence pointing to the safety of the drug. It’s time to move ahead with full legalization nationwide.”
— Marilyn Fenichel is a health and science writer based in Hamden, Connecticut.