New Jersey’s Top Law Enforcement Official Stops Marijuana Prosecutions
It’s an important step for the state which could legalize through the legislature this year.
ASBURY PARK, NJ – JUNE 18: Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy speaks onstage during the Grand Re-Opening of Asbury Lanes at Asbury Lanes on June 18, 2018 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for iStar)
New Jersey’s top law enforcement official has placed a hold on all marijuana-related prosecutions until September.
On Tuesday (July 24), NJ Advance Media reported that Attorney General Gurbir Grewal had sent a letter to prosecutors in New Jersey ordering them to “seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court.”
The letter, however, does not mean that arrests for cannabis-related crimes will be put on hold. But NJ Advance Media points out that a legalization bill is set to be considered in the state Senate by September, opening up the possibility that the Attorney General’s order could be replaced with total legalization.
The decision comes after a short-lived policy change by local officials in Jersey City who decided to decriminalize the possession of cannabis. Last Thursday (July 19), Jersey City’s chief municipal prosecutor, Jake Hudnut, issued a memo to his fellow local prosecutors outlining changes in the city’s drug enforcement policy, which were backed by the mayor.
The policy, which was meant to take effect immediately, ordered prosecutors to dismiss low-level cannabis charges including possession, paraphernalia-related charges and drug-related loitering charges. The memo also ordered prosecutors to dismiss charges which include possession in a motor vehicle so long as the individual was not driving while intoxicated. For charges not dismissed, Hudnut recommended that criminal prosecution be downgraded to community service or a fine of up to $50.
According to an email obtained by The Jersey Journal, Hudnut had informed the Attorney General’s office on Tuesday (July 17) that he intended to make an announcement the following day regarding the city’s drug enforcement policies. Nonetheless, Attorney General Grewal sent a letter to Hudnut on Friday informing him that his new policy would have to be rescinded.
“As a municipal prosecutor, you do not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses in the municipal courts of Jersey City,” Grewal wrote. “The criminal laws of this state are enacted by the senate and general assembly, not determined by municipal prosecutors.”
Grewal’s response to Jersey City came as a surprise to Mayor Steve Fulop who said that he will continue to support the change in policy, noting that Democrat Governor Phil Murphy campaigned on a platform of full legalization and has been fighting ever since to convince state lawmakers to pass a bill which would legalize the adult use and sale of marijuana.
The most recent announcement of a hold on all prosecutions appears to be more consistent with Murphy’s campaign promise. The letter from the AG’s office, however, pointed out that the hold is a temporary measure to give his office time to determine how these cases will be handled.