New Jersey makes a bold move toward legalization of weed

“I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal
court.”
Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General

New Jersey’s Attorney General Grewal announced today that all marijuana cases in municipal courts in this state are adjourned at least till September; in effect halting the state’s prosecution of marijuana-related cases. Effective immediately, and affecting thousands of defendants across New Jersey.

That gives his office time to rewrite “appropriate guidance” for local prosecutors; the great likelihood that that guidance will look nothing like how we treat weed cases now. [The statement doesn’t say if arrests for  possession will also be put on hold].

At the same time, a source informs NJ.com that Sen. Nick Scutari, who is also Linden’s municipal prosecutor, has a bill legalizing adult use of marijuana, expected to be up for consideration by September too. The effect of both represents a sea change between Murphy’s administration and that of Chris Christie, who was so hostile to the idea of weed that he even slowed the medical marijuana program put in place by his predecessor Gov. Jon Corzine before the end of his term.

Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on bringing legal weed to New Jersey to drive up tax revenue for the state and cut down on incarceration rates, particularly since arrests target people of color. Meanwhile, rather incongruously, Senator Ronald Rice – who represents Newark within his district and thus a great number of New Jersey’s people of color – just made national news (headdesk) with his concern that legalizing weed for recreational use in New Jersey will lead to ’sex toys and oils with marijuana’ flooding stores. In March, Murphy was quoted in the New York Times:

“People ask me all the time, Hey – Are you sure you can generate $300 million dollars from the legalization of marijuana? I say, you know what, I’m not sure – but that’s not the question. We’re not doing it for the dollars, we’re doing it for social justice.”

Mr. Murphy argues that the disproportionate number of African Americans who are jailed on marijuana charges is the main reason to legalize the drug. – New York Times, March 11, 2018

New Jersey has the second-highest marijuana arrest rate in the country – behind Wyoming (Wyoming?)

A few days ago, Jersey City became the first municipality in the state to decriminalize low-level cannabis possession, but state officials immediately interceded to shut this new policy down. That was a surprise. The stated goal there, as municipal prosecutor Jake Hudnut said, was also racial justice, as well as public safety. And it would have been effective almost immediately – the following day. But AG Grewal quickly stepped in and announced the new policy was void, that Hudnut lacked legal authority to supercede state drug laws.

It appears Jersey City’s bold move sped the engine on New Jersey’s bold move. If so, well-done JC.

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