New Jersey will stop prosecuting marijuana cases — for now

DALY CITY, CA - APRIL 18: A bowl of medicinal marijuana is displayed in a booth at The International Cannabis and Hemp Expo April 18, 2010 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. The two day Cannabis and Hemp Expo features speakers, retailers selling medical marijuana smoking paraphernalia and a special tent available for medical marijuana card holders to smoke their medicine. Voters in California will consider a measure on the November general election ballot that could make the State the first in the nation to legalize the growing of a limited amount of marijuana for private use. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

NEW JERSEY — New Jersey’s top law enforcement official has instructed prosecutors statewide to hold off on pursuing convictions for marijuana-related crimes until the fall.

The guidance, issued by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal in a memo to local prosecutors, comes as Grewal’s office prepares to establish a working group to study local authority in matters of marijuana decriminalization.

“I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court,” Singh wrote.

Police will still be empowered to enforce the marijuana laws of their particular municipality, according to Sharon Lauchaire, spokesperson for the attorney general.

“There’s no change in direction to law enforcement,” Lauchaire told CNN Wednesday. “The law is the law.”

“You’re just hitting the pause button,” Lauchaire said, noting that the working group is expected to have new guidelines for local municipalities by September.

Under current New Jersey Law, marijuana is legal only for medical use, with regulations on the allowable amount and potency of the drug. Those eligible for medical use can only obtain the drug from one of six dispensaries statewide.

The memo and working group came after Grewal voided a move by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop last week aimed at decriminalizing marijuana in New Jersey’s second largest city. Grewal called Fulop’s decision to dismiss marijuana possession charges in Jersey City “an improper exercise of a municipal prosecutor’s authority.”

Following a Monday meeting between Grewal and Jersey City’s chief prosecutor, Fulop lauded the state’s decision to temporarily adjourn pending marijuana cases as “a huge win,” coming at a time when New Jersey “is on the cusp of legalization,” according to a statement issued Tuesday.

In that statement, Fulop’s office defended decriminalization, citing “the racial inequalities and potentially life-altering consequences that stem from marijuana prosecution and conviction.”

Lauchaire told CNN Wednesday that the working group was intended to give law enforcement clear guidance, and was not explicitly working toward decriminalization or legalization.

The office of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on a platform that included the legalization of recreational marijuana use, referred all questions to Grewal’s office.

New Jersey’s marijuana debate comes as neighboring New York City also reassesses it’s stance on the drug. In June, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that, starting September 1, New Yorkers would not be subject to arrest for smoking marijuana in public.

This month, the New York State Health Department issued a report to Governor Andrew Cuomo backing legalization of the drug.