Mayor Ras J. Baraka today expressed his concerns about the pending bill to legalize Cannabis sales and use in New Jersey and called for complete expungement of Cannabis offenses, in testimony before the State Assembly Appropriations Committee, at the State Capitol in Trenton.
Calling the proposed measures “insufficient,” Mayor Baraka said “Non-violent convictions for any amount of cannabis should be automatically expunged, and those with convictions should not be barred from owning a cannabis related business. The expungement process is cumbersome and not effective. It still penalizes individuals that have been convicted of marijuana charges. We should remedy all situations, and give people an opportunity to live their lives wholly and peacefully so that previous cannabis offenses do not deny them access to job opportunities that can help improve their quality of life.”
The Mayor also noted that in the City of Newark in 2018 there were 757 marijuana arrests and 3,000 man hours related to marijuana arrests. In 2019, so far, 136 arrests to date and 544 man hours spent.
He released the following statement by the Urban Mayors Association:
While expungement deals with an underlying criminal record, it is a civil action in which the subject is the petitioner or plaintiff asking a court to declare that the records be expunged. In New Jersey, such civil action is marred in layers of court fees and bureaucratic filings which make it very difficult to successfully navigate. Therefore, there should be a clearly defined process for expungement of marijuana convictions under the proposed adult use legislation.
Under California’s Law (Proposition 64), The Department of Justice must now search its state criminal history information for eligible cases over a 30-year period and notify prosecutors of all eligible cases in their jurisdiction. Prosecutors can challenge petition if there is concern for public safety, e.g., petitioner has additional convictions for violent offenses.
It is the intent of the Legislature that persons who are currently serving a sentence or who proactively petition for a recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or re-designation pursuant to Section 11361.8 of California’s Health and Public Safety Code be prioritized for review.
Other state laws allow for automatic sealing of records for offenses that are no longer crimes, therefore a past criminal case for possession of marijuana under a defined amount of grams can be sealed without a waiting period.
The State of Montana reduces penalties for possession of 60 grams or less.
New Jersey should go further and be a model state that expunges all marijuana records. Collectively, we have come together to assert that New Jersey’s law should reflect the best practice from other states by ensuring that its law clearly addresses the need for an uncomplicated path to expungement.
Therefore, it is recommended that the bill’s language should minimally include:
The Department of Justice must search its state criminal history information for eligible cases over a 30-year period and notify prosecutors of all eligible cases in their jurisdiction.
Upon a search and review of those cases, any conviction for a nonviolent offense where the petitioner possessed, transported, purchased, obtained or gave away/distributed to other adultsANY AMOUNT of marijuana, smoked or ingested marijuana products, possessed, transported, purchased, obtained, used, manufactured, or gave away marijuana accessories to other adults, their record will be automatically (immediate with no further action needed by the petitioner/convicted) sealed. Persons currently serving a sentence should be prioritized for review.
Furthermore, funds will be earmarked for the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts to review and process all cases/ petitions for expungement.
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Funds will help address a backlog of major public housing repairs and other housing needs.
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Ras J. Baraka is the 40th Mayor of the City of Newark.
A native of Newark, whose family has lived in the City for more than 70 years, Mayor Baraka’s progressive approach to governing has won him accolades from grassroots organizations to the White House. With a forward-thinking agenda that reduced crime to its lowest levels in five decades, addressed affordability while maintaining steady growth, lowered unemployment, and returned local control of schools after more than two decades, Baraka defied expectations during his first term in office.
As a part of his commitment to strengthen Newark’s position in the expanding technology space, Mayor Baraka has partnered with corporate stakeholders and institutions, such as NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) on efforts that will capitalize on the 26 miles of dark fiber which lie beneath the City’s main corridors. Consequently, Newark is the host city for VOICE, a three-day summit hosted by Amazon Alexa, which is at the forefront of natural language processing. Additionally, in 4Q of 2018, the City will also launch LinkNWK (pronounced Link Newark), a new communications network of sidewalk kiosks that will provide residents of and visitors to Newark with free, gigabit Wi-Fi, mobile device charging, phone calls to anywhere in the U.S., access to municipal services, maps and directions, and real-time local information on city streets at no cost to taxpayers or users.
Mayor Baraka’s futurist agenda includes the implementation of a groundbreaking partnership called Hire. Buy. Live. Newark, a program that marks the first time that any US city has sought to transform its economy by combining employment, procurement, and residential strategies. These types of initiatives caught the attention of Amazon, which named Newark as a finalist city in its search to establish its second global headquarters.
He is considered nationally as a thought leader in the space of urban revitalization and his defiance of a hostile Presidential directive targeting the immigrant community with an executive order designating Newark as a sanctuary city solidified his status as one of the country’s most progressive elected officials.
Mayor Baraka was educated in the Newark Public Schools. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and a Master’s Degree in Education Supervision from St. Peter’s University in Jersey City. His father, the late Amiri Baraka, was a legendary poet and playwright. His mother, Amina Baraka, is herself a renowned poet. The father of three daughters, Mayor Baraka is a published author and well-regarded in the entertainment industry for his appearance on the Grammy-award winning album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in his authentic role as an educator.