The New Jersey Senate advanced a bill revising expungement eligibility and procedures on Monday. If signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, the bill would allow qualifying people with cannabis related convictions to apply for expedited expungement.
There will be no waiting period to apply for expungement for people that were convicted before the law goes into effect. However, those convicted on or after the effective date will have to wait for 18 months from the date of their most recent conviction, payment of penalties, completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration, whichever is later. The bill passed with 24 votes in favor and 12 against in the Senate and 50-15 in the Assembly.
“It’s giving a second chance to someone who’s already paid their debt to society,” said Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham, the primary sponsor of the bill.
Cannabis policy advocates called out the irony in passing an expungement bill while adult-use cannabis possession is still illegal in the state. “Expungement while you’re still criminalizing the act of possessing marijuana seems absurd,” Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana, New Jersey, told Cannabis Wire.
Opponents in the Senate took issue with amendments that allow the possession of up to five pounds of cannabis to be an expungeable crime. This topic is part of what killed New Jersey lawmakers’ efforts to legalize this year.
“Five pounds is not a minor amount. Five pounds is a dealer, and to allow a dealer to walk away with an expungement is morally wrong,” said Sen. Robert Singer.
The Assembly was scheduled to vote on the medical cannabis expansion bill earlier in the day but it was postponed so members could consider changes proposed by Murphy.