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Coupling Expungement With Marijuana Legalization in New Jersey Means the Cannabis Industry Can Do Well by Doing Good

Legislators in Trenton plan to address past pot convictions while preventing future ones.

JZSJZSA bill legalizing marijuana for recreational use won committee approval by wide margins in both houses of New Jersey's legislature this week. The bill, S2703 in the state Senate and A4497 in the state Assembly, would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, create a system to license and regulate commercial suppliers, and impose a special 12 percent sales tax on cannabis.

Unlike all but one of the 10 states that have legalized recreational use (Washington), the New Jersey bill would not allow home cultivation. New Jersey is also unusual in addressing the lingering collateral consequences of marijuana convictions at the same time that it legalizes the drug. So far California is the only state that has done that.

"A marijuana arrest in New Jersey can have a debilitating impact on a person's future, including consequences for one's job prospects, housing access, financial health, familial integrity, immigration status, and educational opportunities," the introduction to S2703 notes. To alleviate that problem, the bill would expedite record expungement for people convicted of marijuana offenses.

Under current law, marijuana offenders convicted of "disorderly persons" offenses (the equivalent of misdemeanors) generally can seek expungement five years "from the date of [the] most recent conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or release from incarceration...whichever is later." Up to four marijuana misdemeanors can be expunged, meaning "the arrest, conviction and any proceedings related thereto shall be deemed not to have occurred." Expunged records are not available to the general public, but they can still be viewed by law enforcement agencies for certain purposes.

For people convicted of "indictable offenses" (felonies) involving 25 grams (about nine-tenths of an ounce) or less of marijuana, the usual waiting period is 10 years. Indictable offenses involving larger quantities of marijuana or any quantity of other prohibited drugs cannot be expunged.

S2703 would allow people convicted of marijuana offenses involving one ounce or less to seek expungement "at any time" without paying the usual fees. In such cases, the bill says, the court "shall immediately grant an expedited expungement." A companion bill (starting on page 215 of this file) would go further, allowing expungement of low-level felonies involving drugs other than marijuana.

In addition to addressing longstanding injustices, the expungement provisions make marijuana legalization more appealing to legislators who represent predominantly black districts where a disproportionate number of residents have criminal records. "If expungement wasn't a part of this, legalization wouldn't happen," Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Elizabeth), a sponsor of the broader expungement proposal, told The New York Times. "They wouldn't have the votes for it. We represent minority communities and communities who have been impacted the most. This is very important to us. There would be no way that I would support legalization of marijuana without expungement."

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who ran on a promise to pursue marijuana legalization, has emphasized the racially disproportionate impact of pot prohibition. Anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet sees such talk as a cover for capitalism. "I think it's pretty clear that this bill is not about social justice—it's about money for this industry," Sabet told the Times. "Expungement has been a complete afterthought and something to appease certain groups to get their support for the larger legalization bill." Another way of putting it: Cannabis entrepreneurs can do well by doing good.

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  • sharmota4zeb||

    This is great news. By the way, my town's Environmental Board will discuss our plans for the community garden at next month's meeting.

  • crufus||

    If it won't allow home grown pot, where will the pot come from? Will there be some kind of licensing for pot growers?

  • SIV||

    It looks like a 4 tier system.Grower,processor, wholesaler and retailer. I'd guess #3 is where the real money and cronyism is.

    Sullum is uncharacteristically uncritical of the proposed NJ system. No free markets in the Garden State. Police will have the pretext of searching individuals, cars and homes for illegal "unregulated marijuana".

  • SQRLSY One||

    I see another problem arising here...

    Now that records will SOON be expunged, there will be a sudden rush to get the existing records! Someone somewhere will put up a web site... Maybe in a place like Iceland, that still has internet freedom of any significance... They'll publish a database of pot-heads, avaialable for a small charge. And then, if you are an anti-pot blue-nose, and want to snoop on PAST, STALE (expunged) records, then you can find some other reason not to rent out an apartment or a house to a pot-smoker, or to hire them. So, anti-pot blue-noses will just bypass the expungements of the records!

  • Dillinger||

    >>>the racially disproportionate impact of pot prohibition.

    stupid to throw every person in jail over a plant.

  • Eddy||

    "create a system to license and regulate commercial suppliers...would not allow home cultivation"

    Sounds like crony capitalism to me.

  • SIV||

    Ahem, no less a libertarian-luminary than Jacob Sullum identifies the state-granted monopolist cronies as "entrepreneurs"

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who ran on a promise to pursue marijuana legalization

    Uh, he ran on a pro-tax increase platform and still got elected because nobody wanted Chris Christie's protege to take over the job.

  • Number 2||

    Jacob,

    The 12% tax rate is a "entry level" rate that is supposed to be jacked up every year until it reaches and excise tax of 25%. There after, the tax rate will be adjusted to meet three purported but mutually inconsistent goals: under selling the black market, maximizing tax revenue, and discouraging pot use — the latter being a rather odd goal for a bill legalizing pot use.

    New Jersey is doing to pot what it did with gambling: turning it into a revenue source for the state and for insiders were able to negotiate their way through a regulatory thicket.

  • Eddy||

    "under selling the black market, maximizing tax revenue, and discouraging pot use"

    What was that second goal again? /NJ pol

  • Fats of Fury||

    When Big Pot is well established Big Law will move right in to sue them for trillions.

    Have you or a loved one been harmed by the Cannabis Industry? Studies have proved that marijuana is directly linked to Cheetos addiction leading to extra morbid obesity. Please contact the offices of Sue N. Shearum to help us help you get the compensation we deserve.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    A bill legalizing marijuana for recreational use won committee approval by wide margins in both houses of New Jersey's legislature this week.

    At the practical level, and has become customary, the stale-thinking conservatives are surrendering, handing another admirable victory to the liberal-libertarian mainstream in America's culture war.

    Clingers will continue to bitch about all of this damned progress and liberty, of course, but the right-wingers will be as irrelevant as they are wrong going forward.

    Drug warriors and their supporters are lousy people, but we should hope the drug warriors succeed in their efforts to switch to honorable livelihoods.

  • Drumgroove||

    Union only employees?
    Home grown illegal?
    Sampling rooms at the despenceries?
    WTF

  • BenjaminTheDonkey||

    I'd still rather see them set Chris Christie on fire. The world needs to know how long whale blubber can keep a flame going.

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