The decision was included in a letter penned by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and sent Tuesday, July 24, 2018, to municipal prosecutors throughout the state.
AG Grewal asked prosecutors to seek an adjournment until Sept. 4, 2018, or later, in any matter “involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court,” enabling the attorney general’s office time to develop “appropriate guidance” for prosecutors.
Grewal said he plans to convene a working group of criminal justice stakeholders to study the issue and advise him on possible solutions, reported the New York Times. He intends to issue a statewide directive by the end of August 2018 concerning the scope and “appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion” in cannabis-related offenses in municipal court.
Grewal’s letter did not indicate if arrests for cannabis possession would also be put on hold.
The letter came just days after Jake Hudnut, a newly installed municipal prosecutor in Jersey City, announced that his office intended to downgrade certain cannabis charges non-criminal offenses, seek dismissal of low-level marijuana charges, and divert those defendants with prior drug arrests and addiction issues to community court.
The attorney general’s office notified Hudnut that he lacked the authority to decriminalize cannabis and refuse to prosecute pot-related offenses. The letter noted that only the state Legislature could take that action.
Nevertheless, the attorney general’s move was welcomed by proponents for changing cannabis laws, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which called it “a step forward.”
Even some opponents of legalization expressed approval, admitting the decision is a sensible one.
Proposals to make New Jersey the 10th state, and first in the New York City area, to legalize recreational marijuana have stalled in recent months, despite once looking as if they could move easily through the State Legislature.
Still, New Jersey’s medical marijuana program has expanded considerably since Mayor Murphy became governor in January 2018.