New Jersey state police have arrested more than 6,000 people for underage cannabis possession despite voters’ approval of legalization reform in November, according to a report from the state’s justice department published by NJ.com. In January, police arrested 2,378 people for possessing less than 50 grams of cannabis. In November, 2,125 people were arrested for drug possession and 1,703 in December.
Prior to the November 2020 vote, state police arrested more than 100 people a day for drug possession, the report said. Shortly after voters approved the legalization law, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal ordered all prosecutors to suspend prosecution for minor cannabis-related offenses, but this instruction was not enough to prevent arrests.
The arrests for juvenile possession come at a time when lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy are trying to reach agreement on legalization bills called for by a ballot initiative approved by 2.7 million voters in the Garden State. The legislature had passed a bill to implement the reform; however, Mr. Murphy still refused to sign the bill and insisted on accompanying measures to penalize underage use and possession. Earlier this month, an Assembly committee approved a so-called remediation bill to meet the governor’s requests.
Chris Goldstein of NORML told NJ.com that arrests are a big problem.
I think the confusion – dangerous confusion – is not with the consumers. I think there is a dangerous confusion between police and prosecutors. The problem is that the police continue to enforce the ban. I think they need a clearer directive. – Goldstein on NJ.com
Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, called the current arrests unfair.
The numbers should be zero, he told NJ.com. The fact that we make a significant number of arrests every day – dozens of people whose lives are being blighted. Even if they are not prosecuted, this interaction with law enforcement may intensify.
Once Murphy signs the legalization bill, charges for possession of minors will become invalid, and Grieval’s directive ensures that those arrested since November will not be prosecuted. In addition, some argue that the initiative’s possession clause went into effect on Jan. 1 and that the arrests are illegal.
The deadline for the governor to consider bills is the 25th. February. If he does not sign or veto them, they shall enter into force without his signature.
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TG joined the team in 2014 as news editor and began hosting the podcast in 2016. He lives in upstate New York, where he also teaches media studies at a local university.