A New Jersey appeals panel on Thursday ruled against four men who sought to enter a first-time offender diversion program even though they had all previously used a similar program when accused of marijuana possession.
One of the lawyers who supported the men in court says the decision goes against a state law the governor signed last year that decriminalizes marijuana possession and makes it easier for people who have previously been arrested to strike charges like this. The law aims to help repair the damages of decades of the failed war on drugs, which have particularly hurt low-income communities of color.
But Judge Hani A. Molla, writing before a three-judge panel, said that transformative programs such as pretrial intervention and conditional release — which allow offenders to avoid incarceration if they engage in rehabilitation measures such as counseling, community service, and compensation — were only intended to be able to Use it once, even if it’s your first time to owning a legal property now.
He cited a 2013 state law that prohibits people who have participated in parole, which is intended for low-level offenders, from participating in a similar diversion program for more serious offenders called pretrial intervention.
The four defendants at the root of Thursday’s ruling had all dismissed marijuana possession charges after participating in parole programs.
They later applied for pretrial intervention after being accused of more serious crimes ranging from attempted burglary to conspiracy to commit credit card fraud.
In one case, a trial judge rejected pretrial intervention, saying the defendant had already used a single shot in a diversion program when the former marijuana was conditionally discharged. In the other three cases, trial judges approved the pre-trial intervention, saying that previous conditional discharges — which occurred before marijuana was legal in New Jersey — were no longer first offenses, given that lawmakers then decriminalized marijuana.
Haney confirmed the refusal in the first case and reversed judges’ rulings in the other three cases, saying lawmakers have failed to dispel discrepancies between two state laws — the 2013 law on diversion programs and the 2021 law decriminalizing marijuana — that appear to be in conflict with each other.
“We cannot inject language into a carefully crafted law,” Haney wrote.
Alexander Shalom of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey, who defended the case over Friends, said lawyers are considering asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to look into the matter.
“The Court of Appeals took a very narrow reading of what the marijuana legalization bill had done, and failed to account for the fact that the legalization bill was expressly designed to address the serious injustice that has persisted because of the marijuana ban scheme,” Shalom said. . “We get the idea that we generally only want to give people one bite on the apple. But what if the thing for which they got the first transformation is something very discriminatory and very wrong?”
Shalom added that there is already legislation in place aimed at dispelling confusion between the two states’ legislatures, and that the ACLU supports this law.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherjee (D-Hudson Democrat), Assemblyman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) and Annette Quijano (D-Union) introduced a bill in January that would allow people who participated in the conditional discharge of a marijuana offense to participate again in a pretrial diversion if they are Charged with a new offense, if the offense of marijuana is no longer considered illegal under last year’s law legalizing recreational marijuana.