New Jersey debates medical cannabis changes and expungement

Thor Benson / Cannabis News Box Contributor

New Jersey lawmakers are currently debating expanding the state’s medical cannabis program and its expungement process. If passed, the bills would allow New Jersey residents to purchase cannabis-infused edibles, topicals, and oils, and the state would make more drug crimes eligible for expungement.

“We urge our legislators keep their focus on making a change that can have massively positive impacts on the lives of New Jerseyans,” Sarah Fajardo, policy director for the ACLU of New Jersey, told Cannabis News Box. “Ending the arrests of over 35,000 people annually, expunging records to end the life-destroying impacts of criminal justice system contact, help protect people from the discrimination that has prevented success and made survival for many New Jerseyans difficult; and ensure that any marijuana-related industry includes regulation that promotes industry diversity, opportunities for small business to thrive, and directs tax revenue towards the communities most impacted by the drug war.”

Fajardo said it’s unclear what legislators will decide to do, but she’s hopeful these policy changes will be made. New Jersey’s efforts to legalize cannabis through its legislature have essentially failed, and lawmakers that support legalization are hoping the people will vote to legalize in 2020.

“The legislature is seemingly not willing to advance legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana at this time, and is proposing that there be a ballot question put on our New Jersey ballots in 2020,” Fajardo said. “This is a complicated procedure, requiring amendments to our state constitution and then another round of voting in the legislature. In the meantime, thousands of peoples’ lives will be destroyed by marijuana-related arrests. The cost to human lives is too great for us to wait until 2020 to act.”

Fajardo said the prohibition of cannabis has had terrible effects on minority communities in the state and that lawmakers need to work to fix those problems. She said too many people of color are being thrown into the criminal justice system over a drug that should be legalized.

“In absence of legalization legislation, we need to end the nearly 35,000 annual marijuana-related arrests that disproportionately impact communities of color,” Fajardo said. “We need to expunge records, vacate sentences and charges, and prevent record-based discrimination. And we need a medical marijuana industry with real, required opportunities for diverse New Jerseyans.”

Only time will tell what lawmakers in New Jersey will do in the coming weeks, but cannabis advocates are pleased that lawmakers are focusing on these important issues and hope they’ll make the changes they think should have been made years ago.