New Jersey lawmakers are moving ahead with legislation to make it easier for people with marijuana convictions to expunge their criminal records.
The bill, which was approved by both houses of the state Legislature on Tuesday, now awaits the signature of Gov. Phil Murphy.
What is not on Murphy’s desk is the companion legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, which failed to win enough support among lawmakers and was eventually abandoned by top Democrats in favor of putting the question before voters on the November 2020 election ballot.
Now it is unclear if Murphy will sign the expungement bill alone without a measure to legalize the drug statewide, which he had hoped to package together. A spokeswoman from his office declined to comment on the legislation.
The measure (S3205/A4498) would eliminate the waiting period to apply for expungement for people with certain marijuana offenses and broaden the list of drug crimes able to be wiped clean. It would also make changes to the standard expungement process for all eligible crimes, such as reducing the waiting period from six years to five and eliminating the $75 filing fee.
“These are people who have already paid their debt to society. Are they to spend the rest of their lives paying and repaying and repaying?” said state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson. “That is not what this country is supposed to be about.”
Yet some lawmakers who said they supported reforming the expungement process also raised questions about why the bill allows erasing records for those caught with nearly five pounds of marijuana.
“We absolutely, on this side of the aisle, want to support this legislation. We absolutely want to make sure that young people’s lives are not ruined — or any child or any person is ruined — because of having a minor amount [of marijuana],” said state Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean. “But five pounds is not a minor amount. Five pounds is a dealer.”
The passage came on the same day that the Assembly abandoned a vote on a bill aimed at overhauling the state’s medical marijuana program. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said he wanted to foster an “atmosphere of cooperation” between the Legislature and the governor’s office.
The Legislature had been pushing through the measure to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, but Gov. Murphy announced last week that his administration would be making some of the changes unilaterally.