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New Jersey Expected to Give Prosecutors Discretion to Drop Minor Pot Charges

The new directive is scheduled to be announced before the end of the month, and would allow prosecutors at every municipal level to pursue or dismiss minor marijuana cases as they see fit.

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With recreational legalization on the horizon, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is taking steps to unofficially decriminalize low-level cannabis possession at prosecutors’ discretion. 

According to NJ.com, the new directive is scheduled to be announced before the end of the month, and would allow prosecutors at every municipal level to pursue or dismiss minor marijuana cases as they see fit.

The latest action in the Garden State’s move towards cannabis law reform is a direct response to the efforts of Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and chief prosecutor Jake Hudnut, who effectively decriminalized minor marijuana possession in that city last month. After the change in Jersey City, Grewal created a working group to pursue statewide changes to cannabis prosecution.

"The working group is headed in an exciting direction," Hudnut said. "Jersey City is proud that our efforts lead to a policy that will have a positive impact statewide, from Cape May county to Sussex County and everywhere in between."

Since taking office in January of this year, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has made cannabis reform a top priority, campaigning on both an expanded medical marijuana program and total adult-use legalization. Under previous head of state Chris Christie, the Garden State saw more than 20,000 annual cannabis arrests and spent upwards of $140 million annually on pot policing

In the first eight months of Murphy’s tenure, the Democratic governor has ran into legislative barriers on the recreational legalization front, but has successfully grown the state’s medical program, and fostered a culture of acceptance and action with regards to further reform. The Attorney General’s expected prosecutorial announcement is yet another step towards removing New Jersey’s institutional persecution of cannabis users.

"This was an argument of 'may not' vs. 'shall not' [prosecute]," Reed Gusciora, the mayor of Trenton and a former municipal prosecutor, told NJ.com. "And while I was pushing for 'shall not,' this is a victory, of sorts, in that it will give prosecutors discretion without making a blanket policy."

In similar anti-criminalization measures, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner have both moved to end minor marijuana arrests and prosecutions in the two cities that straddle New Jersey’s endless highways. As East Coast legalization initiatives lag behind their West Coast counterparts, localized decriminalization and prosecutorial discretion measures have become a popular first step for progressive politicians. 

Plus, an adult-use cannabis legalization bill is expected to be introduced in the New Jersey legislature sometime next month. Things are looking greener in the Garden State. 

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