Thursday, September 27, 2018
"What will happen to the people arrested for marijuana possession while it was still illegal?" In New Jersey, the answer might be complete removal of the criminal record for "hundreds of thousands of convictions" according to an article in the the Asbury Park Press, one of the state's""largest newspapers. The article continues:
Gov. Phil Murphy has been a vocal marijuana legalization proponent since the 2017 campaign trail, citing social justice concerns and the racial disparity among marijuana arrests.
"You can’t incarcerate somebody who did something on Friday and allow somebody who did it on Monday to do it legally," Murphy said during an appearance on WHYY radio in July. "That doesn’t work for me. Frankly it doesn’t work for most folks who look at this. It’s got to be a part of it."
The article explains that as of October 1st, "Offenders who complete a drug court program will be eligible to have charges expunged immediately." Additionally, the legislature is considering an "Automatic Expungment Program" that will shift the burden of the lengthy expungment process on the state instead of the convicted persons.
"Marijuana arrests disproportionately involve offenders from low-income communities who could balk at the price of an attorney. One of the proposed amendments to the New Jersey marijuana legalization bill is to use part of the state marijuana tax revenue to defray some of the costs associated with seeking expungement for a marijuana possession charge."
The desire of some states to form a cost-shifting program may derive from observing other approaches to pre-legalization marijuana charges. The article points out that "According to the Drug Policy Alliance, only 5,000 people in California applied for an expungement in 2017 despite an estimated 1 million people who were eligible."
Given the daunting statistic, the Drug Policy Alliance reported that recently "San Francisco’s district attorney announced that the city will clear or reduce thousands of marijuana convictions dating back decades. Seattle then made a similar announcement the following week, and [in March] the Sonoma County district attorney’s office said it will begin clearing or reducing nearly 3,000 marijuana-related convictions."
With barriers on housing, employment, education, and citizenship the Drug Policy Alliance believes the move toward automatic expungment programs "removes thousands of barriers that allow people to fully reenter their community and society."
It will be interesting to see which states actually take on this burden and if the federal government reacts, but for now those with prior marijuana convictions may have hope for relief.