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Why marijuana charges still must be taken seriously

Why marijuana charges still must be taken seriously

A former New Jersey state assemblywoman recently brought up an interesting question in her column for The Jersey Journal. She said many states, including New Jersey, are currently considering doing away with laws that send people to jail for possessing minimal amounts of marijuana.

While that’s all well and good for the people who will avoid charges in the future, the former assemblywoman questioned the effect, if any, the law changes could have on people who are already serving time for marijuana-related offenses.

Under the legal doctrine of “retroactive ameliorative relief in sentencing,” people who have been convicted of crimes that are later made non-crimes don’t necessarily get released from jail with clean records. That means it will likely be up to state lawmakers to decide what to do with those who have already been convicted.

Of course, states first have to legalize recreational marijuana, which a couple have already done.

While the public opinion on marijuana has changed in recent years -- more than 50 percent of Americans are now for the legalization of marijuana, according to widely publicized reports -- it could still be years before recreational marijuana use is legal in New Jersey.

A state lawmaker from Union County introduced a bill this legislative session that would regulate recreational marijuana use much like alcohol, but Gov. Chris Christie has said that he will veto the bill even if it clears the legislature.

Under the current state law, possessing 50 grams of marijuana or less is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. Additionally, individuals are often left with a permanent criminal record that can get in the way of qualifying for jobs and loans.

At this point, there is no telling when recreational marijuana use could be legal in New Jersey or how the potential law change could affect those who have already been convicted. That’s why it’s important to take marijuana-related charges extremely seriously until things are less hazy.

Source: The Jersey Journal, “Quigley: If marijuana laws change, do convicts get a break?” Joan Quigley, April 8, 2014

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