NJ Lawmakers Consider Bill To Expunge Marijuana Convictions

Photo Credit: Public Broadcasting

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill that would expunge the criminal records for previous low-level marijuana offenses if the state legalizes or decriminalizes recreational marijuana use.

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano says a marijuana charge has a detrimental effect on an individual’s opportunity to access higher education, gainful employment, and housing support.

“If we are to allow for legal possession and use of marijuana as many other states have done, then we have to ask ourselves if it’s morally just to allow those individuals to continue to carry the scarlet letter and is it in our best interests as a state.”

Jon-Henry Barr, the past president of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association, supports an expedited expungement process.

“It simply serves no salutary purpose in my opinion as an experienced municipal prosecutor to maintain someone with a criminal record for having possession of a joint or even several times of getting caught with possession of a joint of marijuana. It simply doesn’t do anything to advance our interests as New Jerseyans or as society in general.”

Amol Sinha, the executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey says expunging a record can be costly.

“It could cost an individual thousands of dollars if they choose to obtain a lawyer for the service. It could cost over $200 just in fees. It could take months, up to a year, if not longer to go through this process.”

Kate Bell with the Marijuana Policy Project says projected state revenue from legal marijuana sales could help fund it.

“If New Jersey is going to be bringing in $300 million a year there is no reason that some of that tax revenue can’t towards hiring temporary employees for the courts to go through these cases.”

Steve Somojyi oversees municipal courts for the state judiciary. He says it would be difficult to track down the records of some old drug offenses to get those convictions expunged.

“Going back prior to our computer systems that’s where it gets literally almost impossible. In order to identify those cases, I don’t have a computer system, that’s a manual process.”

Judiciary officials say there have been about 400,000 drug convictions in the state since 2008.