NJ Finally Passes Bill to Legalize Marijuana, But Many Issues Still Unresolved

On Monday, Feb. 22, after much back-and-forth with state senators and legislators, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill to legalize most marijuana use and possession in New Jersey. The passage of bill A1987 makes NJ the 13th state to remove criminal penalties for recreational marijuana. 

Despite this, the state has yet to resolve many issues, including opening pathways to legally purchase or sell the substance for non-medical use. In addition, while possession of small amounts of marijuana is no longer a crime, there is still no plan for how to address prior convictions for possession and distribution.

As of Feb. 22, a person can no longer be charged with an offense for the following acts:

  • Simple possession of 6 ounces or less of marijuana, 2C:35-10(a)(4)(b);
  • Simple possession of 17 grams or less of hashish, 2C:35-10(a)(4)(b);
  • Being under the influence of marijuana or hashish, 2C:35-10(b);
  • Failure to properly dispose of marijuana or hashish, 2C:35-10(c);
  • Possession of paraphernalia for marijuana or hashish, 2C:36-2; and
  • Possession of marijuana or hashish as a motor vehicle operator, 39:4-49.1.

Not all forms of possession or distribution are legal. For example, a person caught with more than 6 oz. of marijuana or accused with distributing more than 1 oz. can still be charged with an offense (see chart below). However, he or she may not be arrested or detained for this offense until new rules are established. Instead, a first offense will result in a warning, while a second or subsequent offense will result in a complaint-summons. 

Possession – 2C:35-10
More than 6 oz.More than 17 g.Fourth
6 oz. or less17 g. or lessNot a crime
Distribution – 2C:35-5(b)
25 lbs. or more 5 lbs. or moreFirst
5 lbs. or more 10(b) Second1 lbs. or moreSecond
More than 1 oz.More than 5 g.Third

Unfortunately, the bill does not allow individuals to grow marijuana in their homes, instead requiring a commercial license for cultivation. Only 37 such licenses will be issued in the first two years under the bill. Similarly, for now, only licensed medical dispensaries will be permitted to sell for recreational use.

Also signed that day was S3454, which established penalties for underage (under 21) marijuana usage. A first offense can result in a written warning, while a second means a warning can be issued to both the minor and his/her parents. Third and subsequent violations can incur a $50 penalty or community service.

A person can also be charged for driving under the influence of marijuana

In the wake of the bill’s signing, NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal ordered all prosecutors to dismiss pending cases against persons charged with any marijuana-related offenses that have been legalized. However, those with existing convictions have not been addressed. While other states have moved to automatically expunge convictions for offenses that are no longer crimes, New Jersey has not indicated if such relief will be offered. 

That does not mean a past conviction cannot be cleared. Under existing law, some individuals may be eligible to have a criminal record cleared in New Jersey. The person must meet all the established criteria, including waiting up to six years after completing the sentence to apply and filing the appropriate paperwork. The process is complicated and often requires the help of an attorney. 

If you or a loved one has a criminal record for a marijuana-related offense or any other criminal offense in New Jersey, call Rosenblum Law right away. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys have experience helping people in similar situations. E-mail Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3694 today for a free consultation about your case.

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