Clearing marijuana offenses in N.J. is coming — if Murphy signs bill this time

Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

People convicted of marijuana offenses in New Jersey are closer to getting their records cleared, as the state Legislature voted Monday to pass an expungement bill.

“This move will make it possible for thousands of residents now and in the future to truly be able to turn the corner and not have long forgotten mistakes marking them like a ‘scarlet letter’ for the rest of their lives,” on of the measure’s sponsors, state Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, said in a statement.

The bill passed the state Assembly 48-21 and the state Senate 22-15, marking the second time expungement legislation has cleared both chambers. Gov. Phil Murphy now must sign the measure for it to become law.

In August, Murphy, a Democrat, conditionally vetoed an expungement bill. He added new details for a “clean slate” automated process that would clear convictions and criminal records. It also mandated creation of an e-filing system, elimination of fees and $15 million to expand the workforce needed to process expungement petitions before the automated system is ready.

That automation is the “gold standard” of expungement law, officials have said. Only two other states, Pennsylvania and Utah, have similar laws.

Senate Democrats could have voted to concur with the governor’s changes, but instead introduced a new bill in September, further delaying the process.

Police have arrested nearly 1 million people in New Jersey on marijuana charges since 1990, according to the state judiciary. That gives the Garden State one of the highest marijuana arrest rates in the nation. If those convicted seek to clear their records, they face one of the most burdensome expungement systems in the country, as reported earlier this year by NJ Advance Media.

Some have criticized expungement, arguing it makes no sense to clear past convictions without decriminalizing pot to stop new arrests. Others argue that those charged years ago with marijuana offenses cannot wait any longer for the relief and opportunities a clean record brings.

Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, R-Monmouth, criticized the bill, saying it goes too far in expunging marijuana offenses for possession of up to five pounds. She also said the $15 million allocated to the improvements seemed too high, given the state’s “budget woes.”

“This is a fight for social justice — for the many residents who need a clean slate,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Union. “This legislation forges a path to real justice for over 2,000 eligible citizens and opens the doors to them for economic opportunity and a second chance.”

Amanda Hoover can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj. Find on Facebook.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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