On Monday, February 22, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy signed three marijuana reform bills into law. A21, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, legalizes regulated recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years of age and older. It also permits the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the agency overseeing medical marijuana use, to regulate the adult-use industry. The people of New Jersey voted to legalize regulated marijuana use in November of 2020.
A1897 effectively decriminalizes the possession of up to 6 ounces of marijuana. Under this law, such conduct may be punished by civil, as opposed to criminal, penalties.
Lastly, S3454 provides for reduced punishments for underage possession of marijuana. Where before a violation could result in steep fines and other criminal sanctions, now a first offense may result in only a written warning.
Addressing Racial Disparities Concerning Marijuana Charges
The new laws on marijuana use and possession are a step forward in addressing disproportionate prosecutions of such offenses among people of color and their white counterparts. Murphy said that signing the bills into law was a "monumental step forward to reduce racial disparities in our criminal justice system, while building a promising new industry and standing on the right side of the law."
Decriminalizing marijuana possession and legalizing its use also addresses social hurdles people face after being convicted of such offenses. Having a drug crime conviction can make it hard for people to get a job or take advantage of opportunities afforded to others. Often, such obstacles can lead to a cycle of criminal behavior, and because of the racial inequities apparent in marijuana-related offenses, it largely affects Black and Brown communities. Senator Teresa Ruiz stated that "this law is a move that offers individuals a second chance and ensures they do not become entangled in the criminal justice system."
The New Jersey Attorney General's Directives
As a result of the bills' approval, the New Jersey Attorney General issued directives concerning how past and current marijuana-related cases will be handled. Effective immediately, any charges involving an offense committed on or before February 22, 2021, will be dismissed.
The action applies to the following matters:
- Marijuana distribution (2C:35-5(b)(12))
- Possession of marijuana (2C:35-10(a)(3) and (4))
- Under the influence of marijuana (2C:35-10(b))
- Failure to properly dispose of marijuana (2C:35-10(c))
- Possession of marijuana drug paraphernalia (2C:36-2)
- Disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense (2C:36A-1)
- Possession of marijuana in a vehicle (39:4-49.1)
For cases that have already been resolved, guilty verdicts and pleas, convictions, remaining sentences, ongoing supervision, and unpaid financial assessments will be vacated.
The new marijuana laws are significant, but those who have been convicted or are facing charges may have many questions about their cases. At Roberts & Teeter, LLC, we have the experience and knowledge to address your concerns and inquiries.
Speak to one of our New Jersey lawyers about your case by calling (732) 607-5553 or contacting us online.