March 18, 2019

Mayor Baraka Calls for Complete Expungement in Cannabis Bill at Assembly Hearing

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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.