New Jersey halts weed prosecutions, moves closer to legalizing pot

New Jersey’s attorney general immediately halted all municipal prosecutions of marijuana offenses Tuesday, effectively placing on hold thousands of cases across the state that involve possession of weed while lawmakers weigh legalization.

In a memo sent to the state’s municipal and county prosecutors, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced he will study the use of prosecutorial discretion in such cases and then issue a directive by the end of next month.

The decision was prompted by the action of Jersey City’s Chief Municipal Prosecutor Jacob V. Hudnut, who last week ordered the decriminalization of marijuana cases in the city. He said he did so in the interest of social justice, noting that three times as many minorities are prosecuted for marijuana possession than Caucasians.  On Friday, Grewal reprimanded Hudnut, saying he had no legal authority to take that action, but on Tuesday Grewal decided to take a closer look into the matter and said he will include Hudnut in the discussions.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who has advocated for marijuana legalization for a decade, was buoyed by Grewal’s action.

“This will give us added momentum,” he said, adding he will re-introduce a legalization bill, weeks after he was unable to win support for a bill that would allow recreational marijuana and also make improvements to the medical marijuana program.

“We’re all of the mindset we should get this done before the summer ends, and I appreciate the Murphy administration and the attorney general’s efforts to back our efforts.  Sometimes legislators need a kick to get this done,” said Scutari, a Democrat and a municipal prosecutor in Linden.

 

Gov. Murphy campaigned last year on a pledge to support legalization, but bills that would allow recreational marijuana have not made it to floor for a vote as lawmakers disagree on the details.  Some favor outright legalization while others say they would support decriminalization, that is, making marijuana possession a civil offense subject to fines rather than prosecution.

“Attorney General Grewal’s decision to adjourn all marijuana cases is bold,” Hudnut said in a statement Tuesday.  “I am excited to work with him in the weeks ahead on this issue and on many other progressive reforms that our municipal courts need.”

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