New Jersey’s new leisure hashish program has room to develop

Randall Marcos offered a political clap. The sound fell somewhere between being treated to an audience with the queen and watching from the hush of a greenside gallery as a frustrated golfer drops a short putt to end a disastrous round.

“Yeah, whoopee,” he said, dryly, tapping his hands together a few times, as New Jersey last week began selling recreational cannabis to anyone at least 21 years old. “They legalized it for rec use, finally.

“Yeah, remember when pot was the scourge of society? Guys thrown in jail for holding a dime bag? Oh, but now that the government can get a cut out of selling it, all of a sudden, it’s not the great evil? It reminds me of when gambling was illegal. Worst thing in the world! Gonna ruin people’s lives! Yeah, well now you can bet on two rats running down the street, because the government gets a piece of the action. Needed something to fill their budget gaps. That’s why pot is legal now! Whoopee! (Expletive) hypocrites.”

Marcos has been smoking pot since his teens. Still does. Used to “fire one up” with friends in the 70’s while driving around Willingboro listening over and over to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” on an 8-track stereo.

“If you got caught smoking back then, you were screwed!” he said. “Today, as long as the Big Man (the government) gets his, weed’s just fine. I think there’s like three taxes on legal weed. Three! Like I said, long as the man gets his, everything’s fine.”

Marcos was venting while visiting friends in Pennsylvania. Said he was saving his loud clapping for the day when a law is passed allowing folks to grow marijuana legally. In their back yard. In their front yard. In their garage. Anywhere.

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Marcos may ultimately get to use that loud clap. Sen. Troy Singleton (D-7), of Delran, and Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11), of Ocean Township, are primary sponsors of Bill S353, which would legalize the growing or possessing of up to six marijuana plants for personal recreational use, and up to 10 plants for personal medical use, by persons aged 21 or older. If passed, New Jersey would be the 10th state, and Washington, DC, to allow the home growing of marijuana.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Marcos said.

Until then, those found to be growing even a single marijuana plant face up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Whenever the topic arises about legalizing marijuana and eliminating ridiculously long jail sentences and unreasonably high fines, I’m reminded of good folks like Ken Wolski, a Trenton native and resident, nurse, long-time advocate for legalizing cannabis, and founder and executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey.

“It’s been a long haul trying to reform marijuana laws,” Wolski told me after New Jersey voters in November 2020 approved a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis, and Gov. Phil Murphy signed the measure into law in February of last year. “It should never have been illegal in the first place.

“It was only illegal for political reasons, and persisted for such a long time. There’s a whole history of that. (President Richard) Nixon (in 1970) put the Shafer Commission together, which found marijuana should be decriminalized. But Nixon ignored the commission and its recommendation. Then the federal government refused to hold hearings on it because they knew they’d come out on the short end of it.”

And so, Marcos politely applauds the availability of recreational marijuana for those, he says, who are willing to pay upwards of two and three times more than street prices.

“But count me out,” he says. “I gotta guy to get me mine. I’m not paying what they’re charging at the dispensary. You want to know what should be illegal when it comes to weed? Those prices. They’re criminals.”

Phil Gianficaro, a columnist for the USA TODAY Network, can be reached at 215-345-3078,, and @philgianficaro on Twitter.