You read that right, folks! In what some are considering a big step towards legalization (or at least decriminalization), New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal sent a letter to all municipal prosecutors in the state directing them to seek adjournments of all marijuana related cases until September 4, 2018 or later. It is being reported that AG Grewal is seeking this delay so that his office may develop “appropriate guidance”, for prosecutors. “What does that mean for my case?” you may be asking.
What does it REALLY mean? Good question. Last week we heard that Jersey City sought to establish a marijuana decriminalization policy. Almost immediately the AG’s Office said no way… And now this. Confusing to be sure, and reading the tea leaves may not be easy. Ordinarily, Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana (under 50 grams) N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10 is a disorderly persons offense, punishable by a $1,000 dollar fine, six months in county jail, and a potential suspension of your driving privileges for up to six months (to read more about this offense, click here). While this move by the AG could indeed signal a step towards decriminalization, It is certainly no guarantee. One thing is for sure; such a move would have major implications for prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and New Jersey citizens charged with marijuana related offenses.
It has been rumored for years that New Jersey was seeking to legalize recreational marijuana use. In reality, it has been more than just rumor. Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) has been drafting legislation for years, and has been pushing the same. Alas, the legislation has stalled, yet again, as legislators in Trenton bicker as to what form this should take. Concerns include tax revenue, health considerations, and legal implications. Whatever the intent behind this request for a delay in prosecution of pending cases means, this attorney strongly cautions against getting carried away, and presuming that you are free to toke up without legal consequences. Indeed, to do so would not be wise!
So, lets take a look at what this delay does NOT mean: It does not legalize the recreational use of marijuana. In fact, quite specifically spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, Sharon Lauchaire, unequivocally stated that there is nothing in the AG’s directive which instructs law enforcement to cease arresting people for possession of marijuana. This move could, this attorney speculates, simply be an attempt to buy more time for New Jersey Police testing facilities in order for them to catch up with their much delayed testing, in an effort to thwart the many dismissal motions filed by attorneys throughout the state for lack of provision of discovery in drug cases. It could be, by design, intended to imply legalization is right around the corner in order to curry political capitol from the electorate, as various permutations of legalization bills are argued and debated in the Assembly and Senate.
There really isn’t much information to speculate on. Those breathing a sigh of relief may be premature. There is no guarantee that a person presently charged with a marijuana offense will have their charges dismissed even if it is legalized, depending on the form the legislation takes. For example, possession of marijuana in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle might still be illegal, and there are many, many fact patterns which include those very circumstances. I could go on. One thing is certain; weed is still illegal, and getting caught with it could still have legal consequences. If you are in fact charged with a possession offense, it is important to discuss your case with a qualified, experience criminal defense attorney to help you navigate the legal system. Contact our office if you have questions, or require our services. We’re here to help.