Courtrooms across New Jersey are about to change dramatically. The state’s attorney general just sent a letter instructing prosecutors to freeze all marijuana court cases until September 4. The September deadline isn’t an arbitrary date; it coincides with the New Jersey State Senate’s plan to consider a bill legalizing marijuana for adults. And even though the hold will only impact cases pending in municipal court, it’s a game changer for the tens of thousands of people in New Jersey who face minor marijuana possession charges every year. Just as importantly, the move is a clear signal that New Jersey is heading toward decriminalization, if not legalization more broadly.
New Jersey Attorney General Orders Adjournment For All Municipal Marijuana Cases
When New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy took the reigns from his anti-pot predecessor Chris Christie in January, he vowed to make marijuana reform a top priority on his agenda. So far, Murphy has been focusing on expanding access to the state’s medical cannabis program. Those changes have helped to eliminate some of the restrictions the Christie administration put on the program.
And it was Gov. Murphy who stood beside New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Tuesday, when Grewal made the announcement instructing municipal prosecutors to adjourn any marijuana-related cases until September 4—or later.
The temporary stall on all those marijuana cases will give the attorney general time to prepare a new set of directives for county and state prosecutors. And it comes after one Jersey City prosecutor decided to take decriminalizing cannabis into his own hands.
Prosecutors Refuse To Seek Criminal Charges for Cannabis
During the Christie era, New Jersey saw record numbers of marijuana-related arrests and charges. According to NJ Cannabis Insider, roughly 36,000 people received marijuana charges in 2016. And 32,000 of those were minor cannabis possession charges.
Furthermore, FBI crime data from 2016 shows New Jersey had the second-highest cannabis arrest rate in the United States. The state also saw the largest increase in marijuana arrests from 2015 to 2016.
With the backing of a governor who supports decriminalizing and even legalizing weed, however, some prosecutors have decided to force the question.
In Jersey City, for example, one prosecutor, Jake Hudnut, announced that his office would try to downgrade marijuana charges to non-criminal offenses. Hudnut also said that prosecutors in his office would attempt to dismiss low-level weed charges and offer diversion for defendants with prior drug charges.
In short, Hudnut announced his office was effectively decriminalizing cannabis. Almost immediately, Attorney General Grewal pushed back, warning Hudnut that his office did not have the authority to stop prosecuting weed cases. Then, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop chimed in, backing his prosecutor against Grewal.
On Monday, Grewal met with Hudson and other prosecutors to discuss decriminalization. And after that meeting, Grewal made his announcement ordering an adjournment of all municipal marijuana cases. Hudnut and Gov. Murphy are praising the move.