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New Jersey Rolls Back Decriminalization

On Wednesday, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced that last month’s pause on the prosecution of cannabis cases has been rescinded. However, in the memo for the announcement, AG Grewal urged prosecutors to use discretion when charging low-level offenders, citing the effect that a drug conviction can have on someone’s life, reports the Philadelphia Enquirer.

In July, Grewal wrote a letter to municipal prosecutors in New Jersey instructing them to seek adjournment of all cannabis-related charges until his office was able to determine a proper course of action for cannabis offenses. This was made necessary by a dispute earlier in July with Jersey City prosecutor Jake Hudnut over his authority to downgrade or adjourn cannabis offenses in his district.

Grewal determined that prosecutors do not have the legal authority to decriminalize cannabis without legislative action, citing existing laws that prevent plea agreements for drunk driving and other drug offenses.

“A local government unit may not ‘decriminalize’ or otherwise license conduct which violates the state’s criminal code.” – Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, in the report

Advocates for cannabis law reform also said that the only way to truly decriminalize cannabis is through the legislature, commenting on the guidance from Grewal:

“They’re well-intended, but unfortunately they don’t really change anything. What the AG did was reiterate the current rules around prosecutorial discretion, but all that existed before. So this highlights the need for the state legislature to change the law so that people aren’t arrested to begin with.” – Roseanne Scotti, Director of NJ’s Drug Policy Alliance, via the Philadelphia Enquirer

New Jersey’s Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D, District 3) are both supporters of a push to legalize adult-use cannabis in NJ, however a bill has yet to be voted on in the legislature.

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