New Jersey to Delay Marijuana Prosecutions in Step Toward Legalization

(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey will postpone marijuana prosecutions for 30 days while the state develops guidelines to downgrade or dismiss some offenses, according to a memo from State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

The order, issued to 21 county prosecutors and their municipal counterparts, follows a thwarted effort by Jersey City, the state’s second-most populated municipality, to decriminalize recreational use of the drug. The statewide suspension will take effect even as New Jersey lawmakers have yet to present a legalization bill to Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat who campaigned on joining the growing national movement to end the prohibition on recreational marijuana use.

“This is a huge win for Jersey City, the state of New Jersey and most importantly, the people who would have been impacted by the creation of a criminal record due to a simple marijuana arrest,” Mayor Steven Fulop said.

Grewal’s office cautioned, though, that long-term policy wasn’t finalized when he met with Jersey City officials on July 23.

“During yesterday’s meeting, the Attorney General did not commit to the final outcome of the working group or the content of the forthcoming directive,” Sharon Lauchaire, a spokeswoman for the office, said in a statement. “The attorney general also reiterated that municipal prosecutors do not have the authority to unilaterally decriminalize marijuana-related offenses.”

Eight states, including California and Massachusetts, have authorized pot sales for recreational use even though it is banned by the federal government, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group.

Starting today, New Jersey courts must suspend all marijuana prosecutions while Grewal, prosecutors and other law-enforcement officials develop guidelines on how they should be handled. Pending cases will be postponed until after Sept. 4, and Grewal expects to issue a long-term policy directive by the end of August.

On July 18, Fulop and Jake Hudnut, chief prosecutor in a city known as New York’s unofficial sixth borough, announced that such cases would be treated as local ordinance violations. The downgrade would relieve the city of a cost burden and spare defendants from consequences including loss of driver’s licenses and denial of public housing and student financial aid, Fulop said.

On July 20, Grewal said a municipality had no authority to take such a step.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford, told reporters yesterday in Trenton that he intends to send a legalization bill to Murphy’s desk by September.

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