New Jersey has vacated or dismissed tens of thousands of marijuana convictions as the state continues to work out the details of its new legal cannabis market.
The state Judiciary has dealt with 88,000 cases so far, it announced Monday evening. These are the first wave of an estimated 360,000 identified that qualify for expungement.
Cases that have been vacated or dismissed still need to be expunged. That’s the step that ultimately clears a person’s record. That phase will come in the next few months, according to the judiciary.
A state Supreme Court order issued earlier this month laid out a process for vacating, expunging and dismissing certain marijuana offenses from people’s records. These include selling less than one ounce of marijuana and possession, as well as related crimes like possession of drug paraphernalia, being under the influence, failing to turn over marijuana or being or possessing marijuana while in vehicle.
The order fulfills the promise of the marijuana decriminalization law. In February, Gov. Phil Murphy legalized weed by signing a package of bills. One set up the framework for legal, 21 and older marijuana sales and the other ended all arrests and fines for possessing marijuana.
It will still be months before sales start, as state regulators are still setting up rules and regulations for the cannabis industry. Old criminal charges for these marijuana offenses may be cleared sooner.
After vacating convictions or dismissing cases, the judiciary will automatically expunge those cases in the coming months. The judiciary is creating an electronic system that will allow people with records to obtain certificates showing their crimes have been expunged, according to a press release.
New Jersey historically had a burdensome expungement system. Several reforms have already eliminated filing fees and moved the process online. Eventually, the entire system will be fully automated.
People with criminal records can struggle to get jobs, housing and student loans due to years-old charges. Social justice advocates have called for and praised reform efforts that make expungements easier to access.
The order applies not just to old records, but also to pending cases, those awaiting sentencing and those currently serving sentences, either in prison, probation or parole.