Jersey City sees win in state guidelines on pot prosecutions

Jersey City sees \win\ in state guidelines on pot prosecutions
N.J. to resume minor marijuana prosecutions, but AG asks for discretion
JERSEY CITY — Mayor Steve Fulop sees a victory for Jersey City in Attorney General Gurbir Grewals decision Wednesday to tell municipal prosecutors statewide they can use their discretion on marijuana prosecutions “to ensure that individual justice is done in individual cases.”

Grewals decision, explained in a nine-page memo, was the culmination of a monthlong effort to specify what municipal prosecutors can and cant do when faced with pot cases in this state that may be on the cusp of legalizing marijuana. It isnt exactly the result Fulop had been expecting last month, when he issued a statement saying Grewal intended to issue a directive that would “achieve the same aims of decriminalization.” But, reached by phone, Fulop said “we landed where we said we wanted to land.”

“Our position all along was that we know we cant change law, it would have to come from Trenton, we were fully aware of that, but we were also aware that we have discretion and we were going to use that discretion,” he said.

Grewals memo was sparked by the announcement in July by Fulop and Jersey Citys new municipal prosecutor, Jake Hudnut, that the city would stop prosecuting certain low-level marijuana offenses. The news was cheered by proponents of marijuana legalization, but Grewal stepped in almost immediately to say the city had no power to do that. The attorney general convened a committee to study the issue and make recommendations. The memo released Wednesday represents “the broad consensus” of the committee, Grewal said in a conference call with reporters.

The memo includes a series of guidelines for municipal prosecutors, with the first one aimed squarely at Jersey City: “A municipal prosecutor may not adopt a categorical policy or practice of refusing to seek convictions for statutory offenses related to marijuana.” But, the memo says, prosecutors can use their discretion on a case-by-case basis, considering a defendants age, prior criminal record, immigration consequences, adverse educational consequences and more.

“Municipalities cannot decriminalize conduct that the Legislature has criminalized,” Grewal said. “They can and should strive to ensure that individual justice is done in individual cases.”

Thats what gives Jersey City officials confidence that they can proceed largely as they wanted to when Fulop and Hudnut announced their marijuana policy in July.

“When the mayor and I set down this road to address the problems of racially disparate and costly marijuana possession prosecution, we didnt imagine that our efforts would have a positive statewide impact,” Hudnut said. “So were very proud for Jersey City.”

When Grewal announced in July that he would convene a committee to study marijuana prosecutions, he put a hold on municipal pot cases until Sept. 4. He said Wednesday those cases will resume on schedule.

Terrence T. McDonald may be reached at tmcdonald@jjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @terrencemcd. Find The Jersey Journal on Facebook.

Prosecutors in New Jersey cannot unilaterally decriminalize marijuana possession in their jurisdictions, the state attorney general announced Wednesday, but they are being encouraged to use their discretion with people charged with low-level cannabis crimes.

State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal issued a guidance memo to the Garden States prosecutors, asking them to carefully consider the repercussions of a marijuana conviction on the lives of people charged with simple possession.

 >>READ MORE: For more news about marijuana in Pennsylvania and New Jersey visit philly.com/cannabis


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