While New Jersey legislators are working out the details of marijuana legalization, the Attorney General has instructed prosecutors to hold off on the prosecution of low-level marijuana cases until January 25, 2021. In cases where marijuana possession is not the only charge, prosecutors are now instructed to either postpone or seek dismissal for the marijuana charge before proceeding with the prosecution of other charges.
While this directive shows progress towards legalization, there are still many issues that need to be resolved. Even though the cases will be postponed, police are still able to make new arrests for marijuana possession until legalization has been finalized by lawmakers. Further, these new guidelines do not include distribution of marijuana. For the time being, any cases involving the distribution of marijuana will continue to be prosecuted as normal.
If you are caught driving with marijuana, it is important to note the difference between possession of a controlled substance while operating a motor vehicle and driving under the influence. Possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle means that while the substance was found in the vehicle, the driver was determined to not currently be under the influence of marijuana. This possession while operating a motor vehicle charge is included in the prosecution halt. However, driving under the influence of marijuana is a different matter, so this motor vehicle offense will not be changed by any of the new legislation. Even when marijuana becomes legal, driving under the influence will still be prosecuted.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are waiting to see exactly how the NJ Legislature will address issues of marijuana use and possession within a vehicle. It is more difficult to determine the level of impairment of a driver under the influence of marijuana than someone under the influence of alcohol. For the most part, marijuana will fall under similar regulations as alcohol including being restricted to those over 21 and not to be consumed in public. There are concerns from the law enforcement community that the smell of marijuana will not be probable cause for a search of a vehicle once legalization is finalized, which will greatly affect searches of cars and homes. The State Senate will vote on the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act on December 17th, so be aware of the pitfalls that arise before new legislation is put into practice. As always, our offices will continue to post updates as they are made available.
At the Law Offices of Eric B. Morrell, we are currently handling cases that are affected by these new prosecution guidelines. Once the State Senate votes to finalize legalization, we will have more insight regarding the new guidelines. These amendments also include changes to the expungement statutes for marijuana-related crimes. Our offices will be at the forefront in fighting for our clients’ rights regarding expungements and any DUI cases involving marijuana.