New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ran for office on a marijuana legalization platform. While legal pot in the Garden State has not yet materialized, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has informed municipal prosecutors that they should adjourn all marijuana cases until at least September 4, 2018.
However, the letter did not explicitly inform police departments to cease making marijuana arrests. Yet cannabis advocates see the move as a first step towards decriminalization and legalization.
New Jersey does not have much in common with Wyoming, other than the fact that the huge, sparsely populated Western state has the highest marijuana arrest rate in the country, while small, densely populated New Jersey comes in second. Only Texas and New York have more arrests when it comes to actual numbers, as per the FBI.
The largest increase in the New Jersey arrest rate took place recently, between 2015 and 2016, during the Chris Christie administration. In 2016, 36,000 people were arrested in New Jersey for marijuana possession, but of these, the overwhelming majority – 32,000 – were for small amounts of cannabis.
A conviction may have a profound effect on an offender’s life, causing them to lose jobs, financial aid, driver’s licenses, and even their homes.
Prior to Grewal’s announcement, Jersey City prosecutor Jake Hudnut had stated his office would downgrade many cannabis offenses, so they were no longer criminal, along with dismissing many such charges and sending defendants previously arrested for marijuana to the city’s drug court. Grewal’s office countered that Hudnut had no legal authority to take this position, and it was up to the legislature to take such actions.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop tweeted that he respected Grewal’s letter, but did not agree with it, backing his prosecutor. After a meeting between Hudnut, Grewal, and the Hudson County prosecutor, Grewal issued his direction to municipal prosecutors.
Hudnut had argued that law enforcement resources were better spent on more serious crimes, and that low-level arrests more often targeted people of color than white people, even though both groups use cannabis at about the same rate.
Murphy has been pushing to have recreational marijuana legalized in New Jersey by the end of 2018. He recently endorsed legislation preventing the federal government from enforcing cannabis laws in states that have legalized weed.
Neighboring New York State may soon legalize recreational pot, after Governor Andrew Cuomo, a former legalization opponent, changed his view, following a study that showed legalization benefits far outweigh the downside.
There are still opponents of legalization in New Jersey who could thwart Murphy’s move toward legalizing marijuana, so whether 2019 will bring legal weed to the Garden State very much remains to be seen.
If you or a loved one is arrested on possession of marijuana charges or for any other drug crimes, you need the services of the experienced Cherry Hill criminal defense lawyers at Gigliotti Law Group. Contact us online today or call our Cherry Hill, New Jersey offices at (844) SHARK 911 (844-742-7591) to schedule your free consultation.