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Marijuana Law Reforms

March 30, 2022

Last February (2021), The Governor of New Jersey signed the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement Assistant and Marketplace Modernization Act and the Marijuana Decriminalization Laws. The Attorney General of the State of New Jersey issued a directive pursuant thereto. Most marijuana related cases regarding conduct which occurred on or before February 22, 2021 were dismissed by the State.

For those cases already resolved, pursuant to the new Decriminalization Laws, the Administrative Office of the Court will vacate by operation of law any guilty verdict, plea, placement in a diversionary program, or other entry of guilty on a matter where the conduct occurred prior to February 22, 2021. Also vacated will be any conviction, remaining sentence, ongoing supervision, or unpaid court-ordered financial assessment or any person who is or will be serving a sentence of incarceration, probation, parole or other form of community supervision as of February 22, 2021 as a result of the person's conviction of adjudication of delinquency solely for specific marijuana related charges.

Thereafter ( in April 2021) the State also eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug related crimes. The practical impact, which included retroactivity provisions , will likely result in hundreds of inmates becoming immediately eligible for parole with hundreds more reaching eligibility in the subsequent months. The impact will grow over time as the elimination of mandatory parole ineligibility for non-violent drug offenses will reduce the number of inmates sentenced to terms with lengthy parole disqualified.

The case of State v. Caronna 469 N.J. Super 462 (App. Div. 2021) (decided 11/3/21) bolstered and expanded upon the requirements that Search Warrants be followed explicitly

and the case restricted the use of evidence in a situation where the police varied from the Search Warrant specific requirements. As is a general societal trend at this time, police conduct comes under careful scrutiny by the Courts. Therefore, a defendant should examine all aspects of their cases thoroughly before entering into Plea arrangements or pleading guilty to an offense. The Courts will enforce the defendant's Constitutional Rights based upon the Case Law precedent evolving.

The same trend continued in 2021 in the case State y. Nyema No. A-39-20 (N.J. January 25, 2022). In that case, police conduct was further scrutinized pertaining to the issue of investigatory stops of potential suspects, Although reasonable suspicion for an investigative stop is a less demanding standard than probable cause for a search or seizure, neither inarticulate hunches nor an arresting officers subjective good faith can justify the infringement of a citizen's constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The Courts have long attempted to balance the State's interest in effective law enforcement against the individual's rights to be protected from unwarranted and/or overbearing police intrusion. As has also been a current societal trend, the New Jersey State Supreme Court has taken much closer observation and evaluation and scrutiny of the police officers conduct in determining where a search and seizure is reasonable and in determining whether the evidence obtained therefrom is permissible. In the Nyema case, the police dispatch alert stating that two black males were suspects of a convenience store robbery that had just occurred did not provide the police officers with the reasonable suspicion required for an investigatory stop of a vehicle with black males inside. The Court ruled that information acquired after an investigatory stop cannot retroactively serve as the basis for the stop.

As can be seen in this discussion, the recent trends in New Jersey Criminal Laws matters have mirrored the overall societal trends pertaining to the rights of individuals vis-a vis police conduct and the relaxation of prior Laws pertaining to the use of marijuana.