States have been ending cannabis prohibition since 2012, but it’s only recently that states are tackling social justice in the same policy.
More states and municipalities, like California, are passing legislation to expunge criminal records for those with prior cannabis possession convictions, reversing the reality those individuals face when applying for employment, social benefits, even housing.
Now, legislators in New Jersey — which could pass a recreational bill as early as this fall — have made record expungement for cannabis-related crimes a focus of the policy, which has been introduced, formatted, and revised into several different bills.
As the current New Jersey law states various charges — including disorderly persons offenses, ordinance violations and juvenile delinquency charges — are eligible for expungement. Yet the expungement process is a costly one, stresses Dianna Houenou, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of New Jersey.
“There’s an application process and so depending on the offense that you’re trying to expunge, there might be a various waiting period before you can actually apply,” Houenou tells Rolling Stone. “It costs around $200 total, including filing fees and certified copies of everything that you have to sent to multiple parties. [That’s] a lot of money to ask people and that’s only if you’re doing it by yourself. If you hire an attorney, as is recommended because it’s a complicated process, those costs can skyrocket.”
“People have this idea that the government can press a button and expunge all these past convictions,” says one expert.
Just before the end of his second term, in January 2018, Governor Chris Christie passed three expungement-related bills. Two bills shortened the wait period to apply for expungement to six years for adults and three years for minors, while the other strengthened restrictions on employers to ask about the criminal background of applicants. This wasn’t exactly Christie flip-flopping to a pro-cannabis position — he saw it more as an example of his bipartisan legacy, according to NorthJersey.com.
Governor Phil Murphy, on the other hand, the state’s new gubernatorial head, ran a pro-legalization platform. He campaigned on the promise he would legalize recreational cannabis within his first 100 days of office. Although this promise failed to materialize, he has been able to expand the state’s medical marijuana program by adding more qualifying condition, including anxiety, migraines and Tourette’s syndrome.
Murphy clearly wants to go further, but 2018 might not be the year for recreational pot. Previously, NJ.com reported that Murphy intended to include $60 million in revenue (which included revenue from recreational legalization) of a state budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, due on June 30 — and many advocates hoped this revenue would go towards a program to expunge records. However, that plan has since changed following the Democratic-controlled Senate passing their own $36.5 million budget, NJ.com reports — a budget Murphy said he would veto — and thus, recreational pot has not yet been passed.
Expungement is particularly urgent for the Garden State because of racial disparity in cannabis arrests.
But don’t lose hope. Since there is no longer a rush to pass legislation before a budget deadline, the legislature has many more months to seed through the details of what recreational pot in the state would look like, particularly with an expungement program.
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