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November 29, 2020

New Jersey law enforcement officials advised to suspend low-level marijuana possession cases

The state legislature is currently working on the decriminalization and legalization of adult-use cannabis

Law Enforcement Marijuana
new jersey marijuana legalization.jpg Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Office of the Governor

The prosecution of cases charging distribution of marijuana or possession of marijuana with intent to distribute are not impacted by New Jersey Attorney General’s guidance to law enforcement officials.

As the state legislature works on implementing a constitutional amendment that will decriminalize and legalize adult-use cannabis, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has provided guidance to prosecutors on how to handle low-level marijuana possession cases.

All state, county, and municipal law enforcement officials have been ordered to suspend juvenile and adult cases solely involving marijuana possession. Those cases include possession of marijuana, being under the influence of marijuana, failing to make lawful disposition of marijuana, any disorderly or petty disorderly persons offenses involving only marijuana.

Prosecutors across the state should use their discretion to either call off the case in its entirety or seek dismissal of the marijuana possession charges and move forward with prosecution of the remaining offenses.

The prosecution of cases charging distribution of marijuana or possession of marijuana with intent to distribute are not impacted by the attorney general’s guidance.

Grewal told law enforcement officials across the state earlier this month that they have broad discretion in handling low-level marijuana offenses.

“Fairness demands that we suspend prosecution of marijuana possession-related cases while we await direction from the Legislature on the parameters for decriminalization of marijuana and legalization of regulated adult-use cannabis,” Grewal said

“It simply does not make sense or serve justice to proceed with prosecutions on charges that may be foreclosed soon through legislative action.”

New Jersey voters passed a statewide ballot measure this month to legalize recreational marijuana, overwhelmingly deciding in favor of a constitutional amendment that will make cannabis accessible to adults 21 and over. 

Grewal said that more guidance for prosecutors will come once the decriminalization and legalization process is finalized by the state legislature.

The ballot question ended years of legislative efforts that came up short in New Jersey. The measure to add the ballot question was approved in December 2019 following a series of near misses to legalize weed by politicians in the state legislature. It had the support of Gov. Phil Murphy and a majority of New Jersey residents. 

Medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey since 2010. However, there are only nine operating dispensaries in the entire state due to a limited number of dispensary licenses available.

Recent polls showed many New Jersey residents in favor of the constitutional amendment, by a measure of 2 to 1, according to surveys. 

Eleven states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana since 2012, and New Jersey was one of four states this year where voters were being asked whether they support adult-use legalization of pot for non-medical purposes.

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