N.J. attorney general orders end to weed arrests, prosecutions now that state has legalized marijuana

Posted Feb 23, 2021

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Tuesday announced he’s told law enforcement to end arrests for minor weed crimes and to drop pending cases immediately.

That word was sent to law enforcement officials Monday night after Gov. Phil Murphy signed three marijuana reform laws. One of those decriminalizes possession of up to six ounces of marijuana.

Grewal’s order falls in line with the decriminalization law.

It calls for prosecutors to drop all pending cases for possession of marijuana and hashish, selling less than one ounce, having paraphernalia, possessing marijuana in a vehicle, being under the influence its influence or failing to dispose of it.

Police can no longer arrest people for those violations, either, Grewal noted.

Murphy also signed a bill to launch a legal marijuana industry Monday, but it will take months to set up dispensaries that can sell marijuana to the public. For now, there’s no legal way to purchase marijuana. But the decriminalization law removes penalties for possessing marijuana bought on the illegal market.

The third law decriminalizes marijuana and alcohol for those under 21. Instead of arresting or fining those caught with weed and booze, police must issue written warnings. The first goes only to the underage person, the second to a parent if they are under 18 and the third as a referral to community programs on drug education or treatment.

Police issued more than 6,000 charges for minor marijuana possession between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31, even though New Jerseyans voted 2:1 to legalize marijuana on Nov. 3. As the legislative process languished, enforcement of marijuana prohibition continued regularly.

The attorney general previously ordered prosecutors to adjourn prosecutions until April, but did not address arrests aside from giving police “discretion” to enforce the current laws. Police officials told NJ Advance Media they needed further guidance before changing how they handled marijuana.

Grewal’s guidance also stated that previous convictions for the named marijuana offenses will be vacated.

Driving under the influence of marijuana and dealing it remain illegal, but police can no longer search someone’s car or person upon smelling marijuana. Instead, they must look for signs of impairment.

The underage marijuana and alcohol law includes a provision that has troubled police officers. It does not allow officers to use the smell of marijuana to stop someone, and also allows for criminal charges against officers who knowingly violate the rights of a young person while attempting to issue a warning for weed and alcohol use.

We believe this severely limits the ability of our agencies to police our parks, schools, beaches, and communities effectively, thereby increasing the risks to public safety, the risks to children from illicit drugs and alcohol and the risks to society from criminal drug activity cloaked by cannabis,” the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police said in a statement Tuesday, noting it supports decriminalization in general.

“Criminalizing honest and well-intended law enforcement is not the way to cure our society from the ills of racial disparities and hundreds of years of systemic racism,” the statement continued. “Simply put, our communities will be less safe and our children more at risk.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-02-24 03:18:41 -0800