As of late, I have been asked about the status of marijuana legalization in New Jersey quite frequently. In fact, I have a number of recent clients who have been charged with possession of small amounts of weed and expressed surprise over their arrests because they believed that marijuana possession is legal. It isn’t. 

Earlier this year, Jersey City became the first municipality in New Jersey to decriminalize marijuana possession. While marijuana laws remain on the books, Jersey City has decided to avoid prosecution for low-level marijuana possession.

After Jersey City’s bold move, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal stayed pending marijuana cases in the state until he issued a directive to county and municipal prosecutors that the state will not decriminalize marijuana possession. Rather, Grewal stated, “Municipalities cannot decriminalize conduct that the Legislature has criminalized… They can and should strive to ensure that individual justice is done in individual cases.”

What does this mean?

It means that we in New Jersey are left with a mess. Currently there is unequal application of the prosecution of marijuana offenses throughout the state because prosecutors hold significantly varying points of view on marijuana legalization county by county and town by town.

Last week, reported that there will be no vote in the New Jersey State Legislature in 2018, but there is a big push for a vote early next year. Until then, the laws stay on the books and you may or may not be prosecuted depending upon where you live. We can probably expect a vote to legalize marijuana in 2019 once the state lawmakers figure which of their buddies get the dispensary and distribution licenses, how and how much marijuana will be taxed, and how to roll out legalization.

In the meantime, if you are caught with recreational marijuana in New Jersey and wonder if you’ll be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, just flip a coin. 

Steve McGuckin