NJ Attorney General Decision Marks Transition in NJ Marijuana Policy

by: Sean F. Dalton, Esquire

Last week, New Jersey’s chief law enforcement officer signaled a positive step in efforts to curb marijuana prosecution in New Jersey.  On July 24, 2018, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal  instructed municipal prosecutors in New Jersey’s 565 municipalities to postpone prosecution of all marijuana-related offenses until early September pending review of recommendations from a Marijuana Taskforce formed by Attorney General Grewal. On the same day, Glenn A. Grant, Acting Administrative Director of New Jersey Courts, notified municipal judges to give “due consideration” to adjournment requests by prosecutors.

The Marijuana Taskforce, consisting of prosecutors, defense attorneys, police, and civil rights organizations will review the scope and appropriate use of discretion in marijuana-related offenses in municipal court by municipal prosecutors.  Currently, NJ Municipal Court Guidelines   prohibit municipal prosecutors from plea bargaining or downgrading drug offenses including marijuana possession cases. The Taskforce will likely recommend a relaxation of the Guidelines as it relates to marijuana-related charges.

According to 2016 FBI Crime Data, New Jersey had the second highest marijuana arrest rate in the United States.   In addition to marijuana possession, drug paraphernalia, being under the influence of CDS, CDS in a motor vehicle and loitering for the purpose of obtaining CDS are among the thousands of marijuana-related offenses handled in New Jersey municipal courts each year.

Following the submission of the Taskforce recommendations, Attorney General Grewal will issue a directive in September providing additional guidance to prosecutors handling possessory marijuana cases which are the subject of several bills in New Jersey.  The Attorney General’s action builds momentum towards the Legislature’s expected consideration of recreational marijuana legalization this Fall.

Current New Jersey legislation (Senate Bill 2702, Senate Bill 2703, Assembly Bill 3819) legalizing marijuana provides for the immediate decriminalization of possessory amounts of marijuana upon passage with legalization coinciding with the commencement of marijuana sales.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s decision is not binding on federal law enforcement officials which still categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 illegal drug under federal law.