Jake Hudnut is the new municipal prosecutor in Jersey City. He and the man who appointed him, Mayor Steve Fulop, have decided to get out in front of the marijuana debate.
Effective Thursday, they are decriminalizing it, allowing possession of small amounts and discreet use.
“We feel that while New Jersey is having the conversation about legalization, it is unfair to continue to burden people with misdemeanors, or what New Jersey calls disorderly persons offense, convictions and the collateral consequences that come with those convictions,” Hudnut said.
Collateral consequences like losing a student loan, losing a driver’s license, losing a job, being ineligible for public housing, having a criminal record, being deported.
Hudnut says people of color are three times more likely to face marijuana prosecutions than whites, who use marijuana just as much.
“So we’re adding our voice to the conversation in New Jersey. We’re saying while New Jersey debates legalization, we are going to address the racial inequality of marijuana enforcement. And, at the end of the day, I think we’re going to save resources for Jersey City. Prosecution is costly. It’s estimated that prosecuting marijuana alone costs the state of New Jersey $1 billion every ten years,” Hudnut said.
The policy is a directive to the city’s 10 assistant prosecutors to use their discretion in deciding which cases to pursue. It’s not a directive to the police. Hudnut says smoking in the home is fine, but selling pot on the street is still a felony.
A Jersey City police officer told us privately it’s going to be hard to determine where cops should draw the line enforcing the new policy.
Hudnut says while Jersey City is the first municipality in the state to decriminalize, bigger cities elsewhere have done it.
“New York does do this. Philadelphia does this. I believe Chicago does this,” he said.
On Jersey City streets Thursday, the new policy got mixed reviews.
“Marijuana is not harmful. Never heard of anyone dying because of marijuana, to be honest. And it helps people with diabetes, if they’re hungry marijuana helps them eat and gives them appetite,” said Jersey City resident LaLa Martinez.
“I think it’s a bad thing because marijuana is a drug. Some people look at it, ‘oh it’s from the earth, it’s not a drug,’ but it is a drug. It alters your mind and changes your mood,”said Jersey City resident Kim Moore.
“I think it’s a good thing. It’s a victimless crime. I don’t smoke marijuana myself, but I don’t see anything wrong with it,” another resident Mostafa Solomon remarked.
“If you’re near a child, it’s not good for children’s lungs,” said Melania Richardson, also a Jersey City resident.
So Jersey City today became the first town in New Jersey to decriminalize marijuana. Whether that leads to full legalization statewide is still very much an open question.