New Jersey Governor Vetoes Marijuana Conviction Expungement Bill

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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has vetoed legislation that would have expedited expungements for people with certain cannabis-related offenses on their record. On Friday, Murphy announced that he had shot down the plan because it did not go far enough, and offered suggestions to lawmakers on how they could craft expungement legislation that was more likely to get past his desk.

“I applaud the sponsors’ commitment to social justice, and their efforts to correct historic wrongs inflicted on our communities by a criminal justice system that has at times unfairly, and harshly punished individuals,” Murphy said. “I believe, however, that this bill could go further in order to more fully and effectively achieve its intended goals,” he added.

An edited version of the bill has been presented for approval by the state’s House and Senate. The governor’s suggestions to lawmakers on improving the bill included looking at Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Law, which makes criminal cases that are 10 years or older invisible to anyone besides official law enforcement representatives.

Sponsors of the original bill contend Murphy’s decision, saying that his plan unjustly caps the number of offenses an expungement-eligible individual can have on their record.

“The proposed changes would significantly lessen the number of individuals who would be eligible for expungement,” said state senator Sandra Cunningham, who sponsored A3205. “If expungement is a good step toward responsible citizenship, then we should be broadening the opportunity for people to expunge their records and to rejoin the work force. There has to come a time when we understand the importance of permitting people to have a second chance.”

Bill A3205 would have allowed for immediate expungements for some individuals with cannabis-related offense, but was unclear on the process for how this would take place.

It was seen as a crucial step for post-cannabis prohibition justice in New Jersey, a state whose expungement process has been dubbed “the most burdensome” for individuals with past cannabis offenses in the country by legal experts. The state judiciary says that more than one million people have been arrested for marijuana-related charges since 1990.

But not all forward movement on cannabis law has been stalled in New Jersey. In July, the state announced a major expansion of its medical marijuana program that has been overseen by Murphy, who was elected in 2017. Though medical cannabis has been legal there since 2014, the new plan allowed for edibles consumption by adult patients, and upped the monthly limit for those in the medical marijuana program from two to three ounces of cannabis per month.

That expansion was a much-needed victory in Murphy’s push to widen access to cannabis for New Jersey residents. As they did in neighboring New York state this year, plans to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey hit some serious snags. In March, lawmakers canceled a scheduled vote on legalization, saying that the votes to land a clear majority had not appeared. Democratic leaders vowed to continue to push for regulation in the next legislative session.

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