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Moving on from Marijuana Convictions: New Court Directive Advises Pretrial Services on Legalization

Even though recreational marijuana use was officially legalized in February 2021, those who have been caught with the substance in the past are still being affected by these charges. The New Jersey Pretrial Services Program evaluates and monitors defendants based on their past convictions and current status, including indications of substance use. Previously, prior marijuana-related charges were seen as aggravating factors that could potentially bar a defendant from Pretrial Release and cannabis usage was considered a Violation of Monitoring. On June 30, the Administrative Office of the Courts released Directive #13-21 outlining the amendments to Pretrial Services laid out in the Marijuana Decriminalization Law and clarifying that current or prior marijuana use should not count against a defendant.

If someone is detained after being charged with a crime, New Jersey law allows for their release as long as they are determined to not be at risk for committing new crimes or failing to appear in court. The courts rely on the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) to determine if someone will remain in Pretrial Detention. The PSA includes prior criminal history as a risk factor. With the decriminalization of marijuana, certain related charges will now be excluded from the PSA. These charges include distribution of marijuana, distribution in a school zone, and possession of marijuana or paraphernalia. Since some drug-related charges do not specify the substance involved, Pretrial Services staff has to determine whether cannabis was the substance in question. If the previous charges are determined to be marijuana related, they must be manually removed from the PSA.

Once a defendant is granted Pretrial Release, they receive a Pretrial Release Order listing any prohibited activities and other monitoring conditions that must be complied with until completion of their case. Depending on the charges, they may be required to submit to drug testing. As of July 1, Pretrial Services are no longer allowed to ask defendants about their marijuana use and suspected use will no longer be considered a Violation of Monitoring. If a defendant tests positive for marijuana, they will no longer be marked as non-compliant.

Unfortunately, many people are still having issues with Pretrial Services due to their past marijuana-related charges. Here at the Law Offices of Eric B. Morrell, we are reviewing these directives as they are released to fight for our clients’ rights. Since the courts are taking their time to fully implement the changes that come with cannabis legalization, anyone with previous marijuana convictions facing new charges needs a strong defense lawyer to make sure that the courts evaluate their new case properly. If you or a loved one is having any trouble navigating these issues and you want to know more about how these changes affect you, please feel free to reach out to our offices.

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