State Attorney General Puts Municipal Court Pot Prosecutions on Hold

Jul 25, 2018

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is seeking to put on hold all marijuana cases pending in the Garden State’s municipal courts until September.

Grewal sent a letter to all of the state’s municipal prosecutors asking them to adjourn all cases involving marijuana until Sept. 4 or later until his office can develop “appropriate guidance” for prosecutors. His letter didn’t say if marijuana possession arrests should also be put on hold. As for the sale of marijuana or possession of large amounts of pot, such cases are usually heard in superior, not municipal, courts so it would appear Grewal is only calling for a time-out on cases involving the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State, a major part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2017 campaign platform, have stalled in the New Jersey Legislature.

Murphy couldn’t push the legalization of pot through in time to include the taxes that would be raised by marijuana sales in his June 30 budget. It ran into surprisingly significant opposition in the Democrat-controlled Legislature and it turned out to be a more complicated issue than originally expected, one that perhaps needed more time for study by lawmakers instead of rushing through a bill that would have significant unintended consequences in the future.

Meanwhile over two dozen municipalities in the state have passed ordinances banning the sale of pot within their limits including several Ocean County municipalities that were urged to do so by the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The attorney general, with the support of Murphy, could effectively “decriminalize” possession of small amounts of marijuana (an ounce is the norm in many other states that have legalized or decriminalized recreational pot). Those caught with a bag of pot would likely still be subject to municipal charges and face fines but would not be left with a permanent criminal record.

According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, some 35,700 people were arrested in 2016 in New Jersey for marijuana possession or distribution. More than 32,000 of those offenders were arrested for possessing small amounts of the drug. Only Wyoming had a higher pot arrest rate and only Texas and New York had more total marijuana-related arrests than New Jersey in 2016.

During his election campaign Murphy stressed that legalizing weed was more a matter of social justice than raising income for the state, saying that young lives were destroyed by minor pot busts, especially minority lives because minorities were being convicted at a higher rate than whites.  —R.M.


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