New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has directed state, county, and municipal prosecutors to dismiss any cannabis-related charges pending as of February 22 for any offense that is no longer illegal under the state’s legalization law signed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this week.
Grewal also issued guidance to law enforcement officials outlining the possession limits allowed under the reforms – up to 6 ounces of flower and 17 grams of concentrates (described as “hashish”) – and rules regarding being under the influence of cannabis in public, paraphernalia possession, and possessing cannabis while operating a motor vehicle. Being under the influence of cannabis while driving remains a crime.
The order also prohibits officers from using the odor of cannabis – either burnt or raw – as a “reasonable articulable suspicion” to initiate a stop or search of a person or their vehicle to determine a violation of a possession offense or a fourth-degree distribution offense.” The ban on searches also applies to “unconcealed” cannabis – or in plain sight. The ‘in plain sight’ rule is often used by officers during stop and frisk procedures, during which an officer orders an individual to empty their pockets and, if they pull out an illegal drug, it is considered in plain view of the officer.
The guidelines also include “special rules” for minors, specifying that the first offense will include a written warning, but that warning will not be provided to the individual’s parent or guardian. Parents and guardians will be notified upon second offense and the offender will be provided with informational materials on community substance abuse programs. On a third offense, parents or guardians would again be notified, and the warning would also be sent to the community drug treatment program.
The updated guidance on the state’s cannabis policy also includes a frequently asked questions section, including the law on driving under the influence, fingerprinting rules related to cannabis arrests, and potential issues with minors.
Grewal issued a directive following November’s successful legalization vote telling prosecutors to hold off on trying low-level cannabis crimes, but it stopped short of ordering police to halt arrests. According to a report from the state judiciary issued last week, more than 6,000 people had been arrested for low-level cannabis possession in New Jersey from November to January, despite the approval of the ballot question and Grewal’s guidance to prosecutors.
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