New Jersey Expunges Low-Level Marijuana Offenses

A new law in New Jersey will clear criminal records related to marijuana offenses.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law legislation on Wednesday that eases the process for expunging low-level marijuana violations.

The measure, A. 5981/S 4.154, creates an expedited process for clearing past criminal records related to minor marijuana-related violations and other charges.

The bill also assigns $15 million to expand the workforce needed to process expungement petitions and requires that low-level marijuana convictions be sealed upon the disposition of the case so that they cannot pose problems for those individuals in the future.

“This … 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,” said state Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, one of the measure’s sponsors.

The bill was approved by the state Assembly with a 48-21 vote before passing the state Senate 22-15 on Monday. It is the second time that New Jersey legislators have presented an expungement bill to Murphy for consideration.

In August, the governor conditionally vetoed an expungement bill, saying it failed to fully streamline the process. Murphy called for a “clean slate” automated process to wipe out decades-old convictions and records, plus an e-filing system, and the elimination of fees.

Some of the provisions in the new law, such as the elimination of fees and the establishment of a task force, took effect immediately. Others will be enacted after 180 days.

Murphy and Marijuana

Murphy ran on a platform of criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization and the governor has pushed to legalize adult-use marijuana since taking office. Since that effort stalled, he and lawmakers resigned to trying to decriminalize marijuana, passing this expungement bill, and giving voters the opportunity to consider legalization in 2020.

“Our administration is deeply committed to transforming our criminal justice system, and today we are taking a historic step to give residents impacted by that system a second chance,” Murphy said in a statement. “I am proud to sign one of the most progressive expungement laws in the nation, which will allow more New Jerseyans the opportunity to fully engage in our society.”

New Jersey is third in the nation in total marijuana arrests. According to the state judiciary, New Jersey police have arrested nearly 1 million people on marijuana charges over the past three decades. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey reports that more than 100 people are being arrested for marijuana every day.

“I’m very happy with the State Legislature for taking steps to ensure justice for the hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents whose lives have been irreparably harmed by the disastrous policy of cannabis prohibition,” said NORML NE Political Associate Tyler McFadden.

“However, I do hope the legislature moves swiftly to end the arrests of thousands of New Jersey residents every month for simple possession,” he added. “To expunge records while creating new ones is not only a waste of taxpayer dollars but a continued injustice on the backs of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents.”

Marijuana in New Jersey and Elsewhere

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