between the lines (2)

When New Jersey residents voted decisively for the legalization of recreational marijuana during this past November’s election, the task immediately fell on the state legislature to create the laws that would regulate New Jersey’s newest legal industry. But one thing had to be made clear: until those bills are written, voted on, and signed into law, lighting up on the street or adding marijuana plants to your backyard garden is still illegal.

But guidance issued on November 25 by the state attorney general, instructing prosecutors to hit pause on punishing low-level possession offenses, reflects the relaxing of rules in advance of formal legislation.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal directed all New Jersey municipal, county, and state prosecutors to adjourn, until at least January 25, 2021, any juvenile or adult case solely involving the following marijuana possession-related offenses:

• Possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana or five grams of hashish, a fourth-degree crime subject to a $25,000 fine and other punishments;

• Possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana or five grams of hashish, a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to six months in jail;

• Being under the influence of marijuana or hashish;

• Failure to make lawful disposition of marijuana or hashish;

• Use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia, involving only marijuana or hashish;

• Possession of a controlled dangerous substance while operating a motor vehicle, involving only marijuana or hashish; and

• Any disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense subject to conditional discharge involving only marijuana or hashish.

In addition, the guidance noted, “For cases involving the above-enumerated charges as well as other offenses, the Attorney General directed prosecutors to use their discretion to either postpone the case in its entirety or seek dismissal, without prejudice, of the marijuana possession-related charges and proceed with prosecution of the remaining charges. Notably, today’s guidance does not affect the prosecution of cases charging distribution of marijuana or possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

“‘Fairness demands that we suspend prosecution of marijuana possession-related cases while we await direction from the Legislature on the parameters for decriminalization of marijuana and legalization of regulated adult-use cannabis,’ said Attorney General Grewal. ‘It simply does not make sense or serve justice to proceed with prosecutions on charges that may be foreclosed soon through legislative action.’

“Previously, on November 4, the Attorney General issued guidance to law enforcement emphasizing that they have broad discretion in handling low-level marijuana offenses, and encouraging them to exercise that discretion in light of anticipated legislative action that may decriminalize marijuana.

“Attorney General Grewal reiterated that more comprehensive guidance, including direction on handling previously adjudicated matters, will follow when the Legislature provides details of the framework for marijuana decriminalization and the legalization of adult-use cannabis.”

While it’s mostly good news for marijuana users, the struggles for restaurant owners — and the diners who patronize their establishments — are only growing as the weather grows colder and outdoor dining becomes less appealing.

To compensate for the winter weather, restaurants have taken to installing bubble-like structures and portable heaters to enclose tables and keep the elements at bay.

But it turns out that it’s not as simple as erecting a tent. New guidance issued by the state Department of Community Affairs noted that most of these tents are not up to construction code with regard to their ability to withstand snowfall, heavy winds, and other winter weather.

“It should be noted that most of the Uniform Fire Code (UFC) tents already erected will not meet the structural provisions of Chapter 31 of the building subcode of the UCC,” the guidance notes, “especially in relation to the winter conditions and snow loads. The local construction office may issue a variation to allow the tent to remain.”

Construction officials, the state says, are encouraged to work with restaurants to develop workable solutions, which can include “deviations from the snow load minimum requirement, anchoring mechanism, and/or tent membrane material,” taking into account “geographic location, anticipated precipitation, weather patterns, certifications from New Jersey design professionals, manufacturers and/or experts, and tent location.”

Business owners would also be required to file a “snow plan” that would be executed should weather conditions exceed those permitted under the variation granted.

Applications for UCC permits were due by November 30, but municipalities were encouraged to allow a two-week extension.

Additionally, the state noted, “items such as portable cooking equipment used around and/or under the tent should be maintained in accordance with the Uniform Fire Code (UFC) and addressed by the local fire official. This would apply to the operation/usage of portable propane heaters and similar items.”

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