Marijuana Not Decriminalized, But Cases Put On Hold

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

OCEAN COUNTY –The New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has asked municipal prosecutors to hold off prosecuting marijuana-related criminal cases until at least Sept. 4.

The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, which does act in a supervisory role to municipal courts, said the local courts will honor the attorney general’s request. Spokesman Al Della Fave told Jersey Shore Online that the prosecutor’s office didn’t have any further comments on the directive at this time.

“Not much to say other than the [Attorney General] has asked that the municipal court matters related to marijuana be put on hold to Sept. 4…OCPO will honor his request,” Della Fave said in a July 24 email.

Grewal’s action came in response to Jersey City’s move last week to decriminalize some marijuana charges, have prosecutors seek dismissal in low-level marijuana charges, and move some defendants – those with criminal records and signs of addiction – to the city’s community court.

The attorney general’s July 24 letter to municipal and county prosecutors said that they do not have the authority to make those decisions on how to prosecute marijuana cases, but that he would form a working group to study and clarify how prosecutors can and should proceed. He asked that they adjourn all marijuana-related offenses until Sept. 4, which will give his office time to formulate guidelines.

His director of communications, Sharon Lauchaire, issued a strong clarification that same day.

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“…the Attorney General did not commit to the final outcome of the working group or the content of the forthcoming directive. The Attorney General also reiterated that municipal prosecutors do not have the authority to unilaterally decriminalize marijuana-related offenses,” Lauchaire wrote.

Toms River attorney Michael B. Cooke told Jersey Shore Online the attorney general was put “in a tough position” by what Jersey City did. Cooke agrees with Grewal that it’s not within the power of the municipal prosecutors to do what they did in Jersey City. Municipal courts aren’t allowed to have widely varying outcomes for the same kind of case. It can’t be legal in Jersey City but then you in trouble for it in Hoboken, Cooke said.

Grewal’s directive applies only to municipal court cases – disorderly person offenses – for personal use amounts of marijuana, and likely paraphernalia associated with that. People will still be arrested, charged and tried for DUIs, as well as those who possess amounts larger than for personal use.

“It is interesting because it seems like the [State] legislature is moving in the direction of some form of either decriminalization or legalization,” Cooke said.

“There are individual arguments that I think could be successful in getting a dismissal. But I don’t think anything Earth-shattering has changed in the last 48 hours,” Cooke said.

The county and a growing number of municipalities have it made it clear where they stand on the issue. Even if the day arrives that recreational marijuana is legalized, numerous municipalities around the county have banned the sale of it.