By Bruce Shipkowski
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s attorney general has announced an immediate adjournment of all cannabis cases in municipal courts statewide until at least September 2018.
The decision was included in a letter state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal sent Tuesday, July 24, 2018, to municipal prosecutors in the state. It asked them to seek an adjournment until Sept. 4, 2018 — or later — of any matter “involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court,” a move that will allow 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. 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 say if arrests for cannabis possession would also be put on hold, and authorities declined to comment on that issue Tuesday, July 24, 2018.
The letter was first reported by New Jersey Advance Media.
It came just days after Jake Hudnut, the newly installed municipal prosecutor in Jersey City, announced that his office would seek to downgrade some cannabis charges to noncriminal offenses, seek the outright dismissal of low-level marijuana charges, and divert those defendants with prior drug arrests and signs of addiction to the city’s community court.
The attorney general’s office quickly notified Hudnut that he lacked the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute marijuana-related offenses, noting that only the state Legislature could take such action.
Advocates of cannabis legalization in the state say they’re trying to overcome decades of stigma, as well as a federal prohibition, in an effort to make New Jersey the latest state to legalize marijuana. But they say they remain optimistic that bills will pass the Democratic-led Legislature this year. Opponents point to the legalization effort’s slow going as a sign the effort could stall out.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in June 2018 endorsed federal legislation that would stop the federal government from enforcing anti-cannabis laws in states that have legalized the drug, and has been pushing for legalization to occur within New Jersey by year’s end. Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.