New Marijuana Legislation Would “Permit The Expungement Of Certain Marijuana Charges” And Give Thousands Across New Jersey a 2nd Chance
With anti-marijuana Governor Chris Christie’s departure quickly approaching, advocates in the state are getting ready for full legalization
Chris Christie is leaving office in January. And with him gone, legalization advocates seem confident that New Jersey can enact a law that paves the way for a legal market. That would take New Jersey from punishing the use and sale of pot with jail, to treating weed like alcohol: a drug people over 21 can enjoy, produced and sold in a tightly regulated, taxed marketplace. It would be a game changer in a state where police arrest more people for pot than any other crime; where a single joint can land you in jail and lead to a permanent criminal record.
New Jersey State Senator Nicholas P. Scutari – who introduced a bill that would regulate the growth, sale and use of pot – says legalization in the state is long past due. “The drug laws in this country prohibiting the use and possession of marijuana have failed,” Scutari said. “It’s time to end the detrimental effect these archaic laws are having on our residents and our state… This bill will create a strictly regulated system that permits adults to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. It will bring marijuana out of the underground market where it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades.”
The new bill would allow for the expungement of past marijuana charges and convictions, giving hope and a 2nd chance to many otherwise law-abiding citizens across the state. “The criminal justice system sees each marijuana arrest as just a box to tick on a checklist, but behind those statistics are individual human beings whose lives will be far more difficult in almost every respect,” said retired New Jersey State Police officer Nick Bucci. “As a prosecutor for more than 16 years, I have seen what the war on marijuana looks like up close: wasted resources and wasted potential,” said JH Barr, municipal prosecutor of Clark, and former president and current secretary of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association. “Every time someone in my town court gets arrested and taken into custody for marijuana possession, I see a lost opportunity to confront real public safety threats because law enforcement is occupied with punishing people needlessly.” A marijuana possession arrest “can leave a lifelong impact,” according to a NJUMR press release, “foreclosing opportunities for student loans, barring people from public housing, and even affecting custody of children.”
Scutari’s proposal is one of multiple such pieces of “legalization bills” recently floated to the New Jersey Legislature. With Chris Christie’s departure certain, legalization efforts have increasingly become bi-partisan. Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris, Somerset) recently sponsored a bill that would “provide for records expungement” for certain past marijuana offenses and make it possible for New Jersey retailers to sell cannabis products similar to tobacco products, including at local convenience stores.
The legalization of marijuana in New Jersey “is not a matter of ‘if’ but rather a matter of ‘when,’” said Dianna Houenou, ACLU-NJ policy counsel. “It won’t be long after the inauguration of the new governor before we see the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey.” With the passage of such legislation and the proper legal guidance, people across New Jersey who are living with the burden and stigma of a drug conviction on their record will be able to permanently remove it and move on with their lives, once and for all.