In November 2020, 2.7 million New Jersey voters showed their support for legalizing weed in the state. Since then, police have filed over 6,000 charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession despite the support by state citizens.
With many New Jerseyans having the wrong impressions about what their vote has affected, law enforcement continues to enforce even minor marijuana offenses. Governor Phil Murphy and other legislators are still working to compromise on both legalization and decriminalization bills. Needless to say, this has left many cannabis enthusiasts in a lurch, as they incorrectly believe prohibition on marijuana has ended.
Police filed an average of more than 2,100 charges for possessing less than 50 grams of marijuana during three months since voters chose to legalize, according to state reports.
While there are ongoing discussions over two forms of legislation, one focusing on industry and one on decriminalization, no laws have been changed in the state, as of yet.
“We’re in a terrible limbo,” said Chris Goldstein, of the cannabis activist group NORML.
“It is a huge concern,” he said. “I think the confusion — the dangerous confusion — isn’t among consumers. I think there’s a dangerous confusion among the police and prosecutors out there. The problem is police are still enforcing prohibition. I think they need a clearer directive.”
New Jersey Police Continue to Make Arrests for Marijuana Possession
The vote in November was 2-1 in favor of marijuana law reform. However, instead of actually changing laws, lawmakers were tasked with rounding out legislation to tackle two topics: marijuana industry regulation, and decriminalization. Representatives have been working since December, hoping for the seal of approval from Gov. Murphy in early 2021.
Of utmost importance, of course, is dealing with marijuana users under the legal age of consumption or possession. And neither legislators or Gov. Murphy are in favor of laws forcing the arrest of youths using cannabis, but they cite that underage consumption is an expected problem. Those are some of the details still being hammered out between the lawmakers.
On Friday, a new compromise was proposed with hopes that Murphy may sign the two separate bills, along with a third piece of legislation, which sets forth undreage penalties. Lawmakers are hoping to see a quick resolution. In the meantime, New Jersey citizens can still be charged with marijuana misdemeanors, and arrested. And likely will be, until the actual legislation is passed into effect.
“It’s an injustice,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “The numbers should be zero. The fact that we are making significant numbers of arrests every single day — dozens of people whose lives are being upended. Even though they’re not being prosecuted, that interaction with law enforcement could escalate.”
One of the most frustrating parts of this situation is the fact that those charged or arrested are facing inconsistent fates. The New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, has ordered minor marijuana cases adjourned until April. If Gov. Murphy sings the bill into concrete legislation, the charges disappear.
However, law enforcement still has not been instructed to halt their procedures. Cops are still allowed to use their discretion on the streets to either ignore or enforce misdemeanor marijuana charges.
Local New Jersey Advocate “NJ Weedman” Faces a Recent Minor Cannabis Possession Charge
Citizens are finding themselves at the whim of local police departments when it comes to marijuana law enforcement. Ed Forchion, a local advocate and known cannabis enthusiast, operates a restaurant and is a well-established seller, but has recently been charged and arrested after a traffic stop where he had possession of less than 50 grams of pot. There are many other Jersey citizens with similar stories, who don’t know what to think of the strange limbo of marijuana laws.
Goldstein (NORML) said he suspects numbers may have fallen in November and December not due to policy or discretion, but circumstance. The work he puts in has shown a trend that decreased rates of charges and arrests have a correlation with the pandemic, not necessarily a reduced enforcement of prohibition. He is concerned that the decrease is due largely to limited activity due to coronavirus, and has nothing to do with a relaxation of laws.
Law enforcement has come under criticism, as a call for local police departments to learn to change with the times is being raised; more clear-cut policies and training will be needed to re-teach how to enforce regulations once legalization is official.
There is still a hot debate about marijiana prohibition–many citizens argue it should have been legal on January 1st, 2021. Others uphold the rights of the governor to reject or support legislation. While controversy continues, cannabis users will hope that the law in New Jersey will catch up to the will of its voters.
“At the very least, it’s a source of confusion,” Sinha (ACLU) said. “That’s a message that has to come from the top. If that means that we have to wait for legislation for it to be figured out, then we should hear that from somebody.”
While states lead the charge in marijuana legalization, advocates nation-wide are hoping to hear from the new leadership on the federal level, in support of decriminalization. Stay tuned for more information about New Jersey’s cannabis battles going forward.
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