Is New Jersey Headed toward Legal Marijuana?

The war over marijuana rages on in New Jersey, with politicians and lawmakers taking up sides. Officials in Jersey City are on the pro-decriminalization side of the argument, which is manifested in their actions of late. Mayor Steve Fulop and Chief Prosecutor of Jersey City, Jacob Hudnut, recently sent out correspondence to Jersey City’s criminal prosecution team. The memo set out plans for a much more lenient policy related to marijuana charges, with the ultimate goal of decriminalization. This new Jersey City plan directed the city’s prosecutors to address specific marijuana-related crimes very differently. It directed assistant prosecutors to downgrade these charges to non-criminal, local ordinance offenses:

  • Marijuana possession
  • Possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle
  • Under the Influence of marijuana
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Loitering to get or distribute marijuana

This new directive also states that if you are arrested on a marijuana charge in Jersey City, then your case may be dismissed under certain conditions. One of those conditions is that you do not have any prior convictions. In addition, under Jersey City’s new policy, every marijuana-related case relative to a simple violation of a local ordinance, which does not leave you with a criminal record.

Mayor Fulop, and Chief Prosecutor Jacob Hudnut believe that prosecuting marijuana-related cases has a disproportionate impact on minorities and is a drain on Jersey City’s municipal resources. There are several benefits for the city that come from declining to pursue these cases.

However, New Jersey’s Attorney General almost immediately responded to Jersey City’s plan by saying that it could not be legally effective based on the current legal landscape. Attorney General Grewal argued that city prosecutors should adhere to the supervisory power of the attorney general’s office as well as the office of the county prosecutor. He states that the city cannot independently decriminalize marijuana without support from other governmental entities, including the county and the state.

In addition, Grewal argued that city prosecutors can only alter pre-existing complaints, including by amending or dismissing them, for “good cause” based on the Rules of Court. He states that this policy will not hold up in court because marijuana is still illegal in the State of New Jersey. Exercising prosecutorial discretion will generally not be considered “good cause” under these circumstances.

It is anticipated that in September, Attorney General Grewal will release his directive as it pertains to the use of prosecutorial discretion in marijuana-related cases in the municipal courts. In addition, New Jersey lawmakers are expected to vote on a piece of legislation that would legalize marijuana in the coming months. Although lawmakers are making strides toward decriminalizing marijuana use, nothing is certain yet.

Keep in mind, in New Jersey it is still a crime to possess, grow, and sell marijuana, as well as being in possession of drug paraphernalia. If you are arrested on a marijuana-related charge, you should immediately retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Travis Tormey and the defense team at The Tormey Law Firm are prepared to be strong advocates for your rights. Contact our Morristown office at 973-524-7238 or contact us online for a free consultation.

For additional information pertaining to this issue, access the following resource:

Prominent New Jersey Democrats Unite to Decriminalize Marijuana