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Pot decriminalization brings sweeping enforcement changes

Pot decriminalization brings sweeping enforcement changes

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s top law enforcement official has released sweeping new guidelines for police in the wake of the state’s decriminalization of marijuana.

Under the guidelines released by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal Tuesday, police are no longer allowed to detain or arrest people for possessing or distributing small amounts of marijuana. Being under the influence of marijuana or possessing related paraphernalia are no longer crimes for people 21 and over.

Police also will be prohibited from using the smell of marijuana as justification to conduct a search of a person or the person's vehicle. They could face criminal charges if they violate that guideline or others involving searches of people under 21.

Grewal's directive also orders state, county, and municipal prosecutors to dismiss pending charges for any marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal under state law.

On Monday, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that also set up a recreational marijuana marketplace, expected to be in place within about six months. Last fall, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to legalize adult use of the drug.

The new laws loosen enforcement of underage possession or use of marijuana and alcohol in public places. Under the attorney general's guidelines, a first offense will be punishable by a written warning that isn't provided to a person's parent or guardian. Subsequent offenses would require a notice to a parent or guardian for offenders under 18, and referral to community drug treatment services.

Previously, underage alcohol or marijuana possession could be punishable by fines or jail time.

Anyone under 21 who possesses more than than 6 ounces of marijuana. a fourth-degree crime, would be issued a summons to appear in court.

Some Republican New Jersey lawmakers have criticized the relaxing of underage enforcement rules as being too extreme.

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