New Jersey police have arrested more than 6,000 people for low-level cannabis possession despite voters approving legalization reforms last November, according to a state judiciary report outlined by NJ.com. In January, police arrested 2,378 people for possessing less than 50 grams of cannabis, an increase from the 2,125 people arrested for possession in November and 1,703 arrested in December.
Prior to the November 2020 vote, police in the state arrested more than 100 people a day for possession, the report says. Shortly after voters approved the legalization bill state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal directed all prosecutors to hold off on trying low-level cannabis crimes but the guidance stopped short of prohibiting arrests.
The low-level possession arrests come as lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy attempt to come to an agreement on legalization bills required by the ballot initiative, which was approved by 2.7 million Garden State voters. The Legislature has approved a bill to enact the reform; however, Murphy has so far refused to sign it, seeking a companion measure to ensure there are penalties for underage use and possession. Earlier this month an Assembly committee approved so-called “clean-up” legislation to meet the governor’s demands.
Chris Goldstein, of NORML, told NJ.com that the arrests are a “huge concern.”
“I think the confusion – the dangerous confusion – isn’t among consumers. I think there’s a dangerous confusion among the police and prosecutors out there. The problem is police are still enforcing prohibition. I think they need a clearer directive.” – Goldstein to NJ.com
Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, described the continued arrests as “an injustice.”
“The numbers should be zero,” he said in an interview with NJ.com. “The fact that we are making significant numbers of arrests every single day – dozens of people whose lives are being upended. Even though they’re not being prosecuted, that interaction with law enforcement could escalate.”
Once Murphy signs the legalization bill into law, the low-level possession charges become moot and Grewal’s directive all but ensures those arrested since November will not be prosecuted. Moreover, some argue that the possession clause of the initiative took effect on January 1 and that the arrests are unlawful.
The deadline for the governor to act on the bills is February 25. If he doesn’t sign them or veto them, they will take effect without his signature.
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