The statewide suspension is going to take effect even as state lawmakers have yet to bring forward a marijuana legalization bill to NJ Governor Phil Murphy.
New Jersey will postpone prosecuting cannabis-related cases for 30 days. According to a memorandum very recently released by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, the delay in prosecutions will be in effect while the state comes up with guidelines that will potentially dismiss or downgrade certain cannabis offenses.
Grewal issued the order to 21 county prosecutors as well as their municipal counterparts following Jersey City’s thwarted effort to pre-empt state officials and decriminalize the use of the drug for recreational purposes.
The statewide suspension is going to take effect even as state lawmakers have yet to bring forward a marijuana legalization bill to NJ Governor Phil Murphy. The Democrat governor heavily campaigned for legalizing cannabis.
Grewal vs. Jersey City?
Grewal had challenged the Jersey City officials’ argument, but in a statement, he said that he sought the suspension of “any matter involving a cannabis-related offense that is pending in municipal court” while working to clarify the scope, as well as the proper use of prosecutorial discretion in cannabis-related offenses in municipal court.
In his memo, Grewal wrote that he intends to issue a state-wide directive by the end of August.
A step forward
Attorney General Grewal’s move has been lauded by proponents of cannabis law reform, calling it a step in the right direction. Even opponents of cannabis legalization described the attorney general’s decision as a sensible one.
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML) New Jersey’s executive director, Evan Nison, said in a statement that he applauds the attorney general’s decision to delay — and possibly prevent — thousands of unfair prosecutions.
Nison further said that these offenses can follow offenders around for their entire lives and can make it more difficult for them to get a college education or a job. According to him, they are thrilled to see such move and they are excited to continue the public discussion on cannabis legalization.
Not total decriminalization
It’s worth noting, though, that Grewal’s does not constitute complete cannabis decriminalization. This is because police can still arrest individuals for cannabis possession, even if their court case is uncertain. Grewal’s proposed working group also has not met yet, so it is premature to suggest that the prosecutions are going to be suspended indefinitely.
However, the order signals a major timeout ahead of Murphy’s push to legalize the use of recreational cannabis.
Progress slowed last month
At one point, cannabis legalization in New Jersey had been anticipated to take place as early as July 1. However, progress toward this goal slowed down last month during budget talks.
The good news is that it is expected to catch up near the end of summer, which is also around the same time Grewal intends to issue a statewide directive on cannabis-related crimes.
While Gov. Murphy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), and a number of prominent Democrats support marijuana legalization, the idea faced considerable backlash from legislators belonging to both sides of the aisle. Many of them, however, have called for decriminalization of cannabis as a compromise.
According to Jeanette Hoffman, a spokesperson for New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy, which is opposed to legalizing the drug, the move is a commonsense approach that shows that parties can work toward social justice without having to legalize the sales of highly-potent gummies, candies, sodas and other edibles aimed at kids.
Hoffman said that the attorney general’s decision makes their point exactly: that there’s a sensible middle ground between outright drug commercialization and criminalization.