Over the course of two months this summer, New Jersey courts have successfully expunged 362,000 low-level marijuana cases from individual’s records, giving many citizens a chance at starting a new life without a harmful criminal record, NJ.com reports.
When marijuana was recently decriminalized in New Jersey, the state did away with fines and penalties for possessing — and selling — small amounts of marijuana. While advocates were pleased with the progress, many knew that in order for real change to occur, much of the decriminalization would have to come in the form of expungements so that people can get past their criminal records.
The judiciary began vacating and dismissing cases in July, and then expunged them, the step that ultimately clears a person’s record.
Marijuana Moment reports that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted about this success, saying, “362,000 marijuana cases already expunged. Thousands more to come. With our new cannabis laws, we are turning the page on the failed War on Drugs and ensuring social justice here in New Jersey.”
Now that so many criminal records have been expunged in such a short period of time, advocates are optimistic about the future, noting that there could be another 125,000 to 150,000 cases expunged very soon, NJ.com details.
Before decriminalizing weed, the ACLU estimates that New Jersey law enforcement were behind over 24,000 marijuana-related arrests each year, and all of that policing cost more than $143 million per year.
The record expungement will do most for people of color, as the ACLU notes that racial disparities in New Jersey marijuana arrests and subsequent record-holders were at an all time high before weed was decriminalized.
In some New Jersey neighborhoods, Black people were 30 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white individuals, the ACLU found.
Advocates Offer Support
New Jersey social justice organizations have orchestrated a free expungement clinic at Doubletree by Hilton Penn Station Hotel in Newark taking place Tuesday, High Times reports.
Charles Gormally, attorney and co-chair of the cannabis practice at Brach Eichler, spoke with NJ.com about the event, adding that attorneys are helping individuals who do qualify for expungement to file the correct paperwork to confirm that their records have been cleared.
Gormally noted that attorneys are also helping people who do not meet the criteria for automatic processing to file traditional expungement documents — which can take more than a year for most people.
Chirali Patel, an attorney with Pashman Stein Walder Hayden spoke to NJ.com, discussing the future of the Garden State’s relationship with expunging marijuana cases from people’s records. She said she hopes the state re-examines those cases and finds a way to clear them, too.
Patel also praised the progress made in clearing the records and by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which last month unveiled its social-equity focused rules to steer New Jersey’s legal weed market.
“Decriminalization and legalization are trying to work hand-in-hand,” Patel said. “Of course, this is just one step. Dealing with the collateral damage of having had a record — it still prevented them from so much. They’re finally going to be getting to the starting line.”
Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.