On 1 July, New Jersey is slated to become the 14th state in America to legalise medical marijuana, after five years of lobbying by pro-pot activists. But unlike in more liberal states such as California, New Jersey is enacting the toughest pro-pot law ever. Home-growing is forbidden, there is a monthly two-ounce consumption limit, the weed may only be purchased at official “treatment centres” and doctors will have far more control over who does – and does not – receive the drug.
Indeed, the restrictions are so tight that New Jersey has yet to actually craft them into an official state policy, prompting governor Chris Christie to seek a six- to 12-month delay on the law’s implementation. The new law “is very good as written”, Christie told reporters last week. But a delay, he suggests, would help the state “do it the right way”.
Things are already right enough for folks like Ken Wolski, who as leader for the coalition for Medical Marijuana – New Jersey, led the battle to make pot legal. As Wolski sees it, delaying the law would be detrimental to sick patients. “They don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Wolski says. “But they’ve looked at states like California and they don’t like what they see.”
Without doubt, the contrast between marijuana laws in the Garden State and the Golden State could not be more dramatic. That two-ounce monthly limit in New Jersey? It’s 24 ounces in California. The Jersey ban on in-house cultivation? In California folks can grow up to 72 plants at home, with some cities such as San Jose setting no formal limits.
Most dramatically, California has a system of hundreds of licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to distribute the state-sanctioned herb. In fact, in cities such as Oakland pot sales are actually taxed, thanks to a new 1.8 per cent levy introduced last year. Annual revenues could potentially reach $1m – a much-needed boon for its cash-strapped city hall.
There will be no taxation back in New Jersey, where the marijuana will be distributed via those six initial treatment centres. Located throughout the state, the centres will operate as non-profit collectives responsible for growing, distributing, securing and monitoring both the marijuana and the patients that use it. “The centres will set the pricing,” Wolski says, “and after two years additional centres will be allowed to open.”
That next crop of centres will likely function as for-profit businesses, prompting many New Jersey entrepreneurs to lobby for those initial six licences. Start-up costs are steep – up to $2m a centre. But as the ubiquity of California pot centres proves, the potential pay-off is huge.
Still, for marijuana activists such as Wolski, the new law’s arrival is nothing if not bitter-sweet. On one hand, medical marijuana will now be available to the thousands of patients who need it. Yet, tightly controlled and challenging to obtain, the herb will only be of limited help to many of the state’s sickest. “We like to fancy ourselves a progressive state,” laments Wolski. “But we’re not ahead of the curve. We’re simply middle of the road.”