Marijuana Decriminalization Becomes Reality

Image of marijuana leaf on top of money.

The decriminalization of marijuana in New Jersey took two significant steps forward as the Governor signed legislation which significantly liberalizes cannabis law and the Attorney General issued a directive to prosecutors to dismiss certain categories of marijuana offenses.

On Tuesday, Governor Phil Murphy signed the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act and marijuana decriminalization laws. The Act is 216 pages long and places some significant conditions on legalization, so it will undoubtedly require some time for law enforcement, attorneys, and courts to identify and resolve all of the issues lying in wait.

However, in the meantime, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued Law Enforcement Directive No. 2021-1, which directs state, county, and municipal prosecutors to dismiss the following pending marijuana-related charges for conduct which occurred on or before February 22, 2021:

  • 2C: 25-5(b)(12) Distribution of Marijuana or hashish
  • 2C:35-10(a)(3) Possession of marijuana or hashish
  • 2C:35-10(a)(4) Possession of marijuana or hashish
  • 2C:35-10(b) Under the influence (with respect to marijuana or hashish only)
  • 2C:35-10(c) Failure to properly dispose CDS (with respect to marijuana or hashish only)
  • 2C:36-2 Possession of paraphernalia (with respect to marijuana or hashish only)
  • 2C:36A-1 Disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offenses subject to conditional discharge pursuant to this section
  • 39:4-49.1 Possession of CDS in a vehicle (with respect to marijuana or hashish only)

The directive applies to adult and juvenile defendants. Prosecutors are to move to dismiss the charges at the next court proceeding. Defendants with other charges in addition to those above are still subject to prosecution on the charges not affected by this directive. Previously the A.G. had directed prosecutors to seek adjournments of certain marijuana related offenses. The new directive supersedes those directives.

The Directive also notes that pursuant to the new legislation, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) will vacate any guilty verdict, plea, diversionary program (pre-trial intervention, conditional discharge, conditional dismissal), or other entry of guilt of the offenses listed above which occurred on or before February 22, 2021. The AOC will also vacate any conviction, remaining sentence, ongoing supervision, and unpaid court-ordered financial assessments of any person who is or will be serving a sentence of incarceration, probation, parole, or other form of community supervision for the above-listed charges which occurred on or before February 22.

It is unclear whether and when the AOC will implement the “automatic” expungement that legislators promised for past and present marijuana-related offenses subject to the new legislation. Although expungement reform legislation was enacted last year, the AOC and municipal courts interpreted the law , the Governor delayed certain milestones due to COVID and the lockdowns, and the administrative bureaucracies of state agencies have imposed extraordinary delays for even traditional expungements. A person with current charges or a record of marijuana offenses should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney as to what options are available to them.

Look for updates to this blog as questions regarding the implementation of the new legislation are resolved.