TRENTON — Municipal prosecutors are prohibited from decriminalizing marijuana and must use appropriate discretion when handling those complaints in municipal court just like any other criminal offense, according to guidance issued Wednesday by the state Attorney General’s Office.
The guidance “broadly reaffirms that municipal prosecutors are not permitted to decriminalize marijuana,” Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said during a conference call with media outlets.
This comes more than a month after officials in Jersey City attempted to decriminalize recreational use of the drug. In response to the attempt, Grewal issued a letter to void the decriminalization, then ordered a 30-day postponement for marijuana prosecutions through the state, during which time the new guidelines were created.
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The order postponing the prosecution of marijuana offenses will expire Tuesday.
While they are prohibited from adopting a policy that curbs prosecution for all marijuana offenses, municipal prosecutors can use their discretion on a case-by-case basis for marijuana-related or any other type of offense, “based on the particular facts and applicable law, and consistent with their ethical obligations to the state, the defendant and the courts,” according to the guidance.
The guidelines take into consideration case selection and initiation, plea agreements, amendments and dismissals, sentencing, diversion programs and community court.
While a lack of evidence is generally enough for a municipal prosecutor to amend or dismiss a charge, the guidance states, “a municipal prosecutor should consider the impact of adverse collateral consequences of a conviction based on the specific circumstances or factors presented by the defendant or elicited by the court.”
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These consequences include the age of the defendant, their criminal record, the nature and circumstances of the offense and arrest, as well as adverse consequences to employment, military enlistment, immigration, educational and housing.