Expungement Debate Threatens to Delay Marijuana Legalization

NJTV News | December 13, 2018 | Social
The bill to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey does not go far enough for some people, especially in expunging the criminal convictions of small-time dealers

Supporters of marijuana legalization say it would generate millions of dollars in sales taxes for the state. “First and foremost,” however, “this is a social justice issue,” says Gov. Phil Murphy.

Social justice for many advocates means expunging criminal convictions. The legislation being discussed in Trenton envisages expungement for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. But it does not extend to small-time dealers and that omission is causing some big-city mayors and lawmakers to balk.

Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, who represents the southern part of Jersey City, said, “I want to make sure that this bill will be fair for all…” including “the guy who was selling — and nine time out of 10 he was selling because he was trying to make ends meet, maybe he’s trying to help put food on the table for his kids or help his mom pay rent — now he will still be in jail. Whereas that same corner, someone who wants to smoke marijuana, they can go and buy it legally.”

Sen. Nick Scutari, a sponsor of the legalization bill, said expungement for even small-time dealers is not in his bill. “I didn’t believe that this piece of legislation… can erase all the wrongs that occurred adjacent to prohibition over the past close to 100 years. That’s contemplated in another bill, which is complicated in its own right.”

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