Jersey City, New Jersey is decriminalizing the use and possession of marijuana with a new policy for prosecutors that begins today. Mayor Steven Fulop said in a statement that the change will serve to redress injustices of the War on Drugs.
“The fact is, marijuana arrests and prosecutions in New Jersey, and around the nation, point to severe inequalities that negatively impact people of color disproportionately, and lead to long-term economic challenges for anyone who finds themselves prosecuted for possession,” Fulop said.
“We are working to correct this with our new policy in a proactive way, and I am proud that we will be the first in the state to do so,” he added.
New Policy Begins Today
Under the plan adopted by the city, municipal prosecutors will be encouraged to seek a non-criminal disposition for several low-level cannabis offenses. The policy was spearheaded by Fulop and new chief municipal prosecutor Jake Hudnut, who took over the position on July 2.
Hudnut, a former criminal defense attorney, ran an unsuccessful bid for a city council seat last year. During that campaign, he made the racial injustice of drug enforcement policy an issue in the race. The prosecutor repeated that theme on Wednesday.
“In a city as large, diverse, and progressive as Jersey City, we are poised to take action and address this injustice,” Hudnut said.
“We will not contribute to the racially disparate and costly prosecution of a nonviolent offense that is on the verge of legalization amid widespread public support,” he continued. “We have seen similar policies enacted with success across the country, and I am confident in our ability to join this conversation in a productive and positive way.”
Mayor Fulop praised the new prosecutor for a policy that will conserve city resources while better serving the pursuit of justice.
“It’s probably the first time the city has had a prosecutor that has been really proactive thinking about policies and how they really impact the entire city,” Fulop said.
Five Offenses No Longer Charged As Crimes
In a memo sent on July 19, Hudnut instructed prosecutors to dismiss or amend charges for five cannabis-related offenses to a non-criminal disposition. The offenses are possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana while in a motor vehicle; being under the influence of marijuana, use or possession with intent to use marijuana drug paraphernalia, and loitering to obtain or distribute a controlled dangerous substance.
People of Color Charged More Often
In his letter to prosecutors, Hudnut noted the many social consequences of a drug conviction, including suspended drivers licenses and ineligibility for student financial aid and public housing. With clear evidence of ongoing injustice, he said on Wednesday that policymakers have a duty to address the racial bias in the criminal justice system.
“What gives me pause is that despite similar cross-racial usage of marijuana, New Jerseyans of color are three times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for marijuana than white New Jerseyans,” Hudnut said. “I think prosecutors have an obligation to acknowledge this and fix this problem.”