The Department of Justice’s approach to prosecuting state marijuana cases was abruptly changed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Jan. 4, 2018.
Up until then, the Department of Justice’s official policy was to focus on marijuana enforcement on organizations that:
- sell to children
- engage in violence
- sell illegally under state law
However, in Sessions’ memo to all United States District Attorneys, he rescinded the Obama administration policies. Instead, Sessions said all federal prosecutors have discretion on when to prosecute and should consider the federal law enforcement priorities set by the Attorney General:
- the seriousness of the crime
- the deterrent effect of criminal prosecutor
- the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community
It is unknown how this shift in policy will affect states that already have passed laws legalizing marijuana:
- Nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use and sale
- Two states have legalized just marijuana use
- 29 states — including New Jersey — and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana
Under the new policy, United States District Attorneys appear to have the authority to prosecute the possession and distribution of marijuana federally in states that have legalized marijuana. There is no longer any special exemption for marijuana. District attorneys may now use the same prosecutorial discretion that they would normally use in other types of cases.
New Jersey Marijuana Laws
In New Jersey, medical marijuana is legal at a state level. Possession of marijuana is still a Disorderly Persons Offense and carries a maximum jail sentence of up to six months.
In his 2019 budget address on March 13, 2018, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy included $60 million in tax revenue from sales of legal marijuana.
“The only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana sales to adults,” he said in the speech. At this point, there is no clear indication that a bill to legalize marijuana in New Jersey could be passed in the state Senate.
It is unlikely that the federal government is going to use its time and resources on prosecuting individuals for Possession of Marijuana. However, it is currently unknown how it will respond to businesses that sell or dispense marijuana. Even if legalized in New Jersey, federal law treats distribution of marijuana as a serious offense, punishable by jail time.
Until a legalization bill is passed by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Murphy, marijuana will remain illegal in New Jersey and a conviction will seriously impact your life. If you or anyone you know is charged with Possession of Marijuana, or any related offense, Daniel M. Rosenberg & Associates can help. Call us today at 609-216-7400 to get a free consultation on your case.