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N.J. will halt prosecuting marijuana possession circumstances, lawyer normal says

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New Jersey’s top law enforcement officer on Wednesday ordered prosecutors to halt all low-level marijuana cases nationwide as lawmakers continue to debate bills to formally legalize cannabis.

Anyone charged with possession only, under the influence of marijuana or, among other things, using marijuana while driving should postpone their cases to at least January 25, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal wrote to prosecutors, district attorneys and district attorneys.

The order affects adults and young people currently under criminal prosecution, as well as those arrested in the coming weeks. This does not apply to those accused of distributing marijuana.

“It just doesn’t make sense or serve justice to bring law enforcement action on charges that may soon be foreclosed by legislative action,” Grewal said in a statement. “Fairness demands that we suspend prosecution of marijuana possession cases while we await lawmakers direction.”

In cases where local residents face additional charges in addition to low-level marijuana crimes, Grewal urged prosecutors “at their discretion” to move to dismiss the marijuana charges or postpone the entire case.

However, the latest directive does not stop the arrests, which the American Civil Liberties Union says are disproportionately targeted against blacks in New Jersey.

The arrests of marijuana continued after residents largely voted for legalization on election day.

Senate lawmakers had to work quickly on legislation to decriminalize possession of up to six ounces and distribution of up to one ounce.

But Senator Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, added an amendment that would downgrade penalties for possession of psilocybin, commonly known as “magic” mushrooms, days before lawmakers in both houses were due to vote on the measure.

The Senate passed Law 29-4, but the Assembly stopped the vote because of concerns about the mushroom change. Legislators say negotiations are ongoing but no progress has been made since then.

Prosecutors have continued to indict many people with small amounts of property, defense lawyers say. And they have reported uneven enforcement of the law, with some dismissing cases and others fully prosecuting the crimes.

For example, Ocean County Prosecutors continued to prosecute a young couple caught on a beach with less than 9 grams of marijuana earlier this year. In Elizabeth, the police produced a flyer titled “The Blunt Truth” in which residents said, “We, the police, will continue to accuse you of all marijuana laws.”

Representatives from the two agencies did not respond to requests for comment.

Grewal previously reminded police nationwide that cannabis will remain illegal until lawmakers regulate it, although he told officials that they “have a wide discretion in dealing with low-level marijuana crime.”

Robin Wilson-Glover, Managing Producer of NJ Advance Media, contributed to this report.

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Blake Nelson can be reached at bnelson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BCunninghamN.

Amanda Hoover can be reached at ahoover@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj.

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