NJ Has Dismissed 88K Marijuana Cases Under New Law
New Jersey courts have announced that they have dismissed or vacated the first of over 88,000 marijuana-related cases as part of the state’s new marijuana legalization laws passed earlier this year.
State Working to Vacate/Dismiss Marijuana Convictions
As of mid-July 2021, the state judiciary had managed to dismiss or vacate marijuana possession convictions in about 88,000 cases, representing the first wave of an estimated 360,000 total cases that are eligible for dismissal or vacatur.
Once a case is dismissed or vacated, the records of the arrest or conviction will still need to be expunged. The state judiciary has announced that marijuana arrests and convictions that are dismissed or vacated will eventually be automatically expunged, as well. The judiciary is also setting up an electronic system that will allow individuals who have had their marijuana convictions dismissed and their records expunged to obtain a certificate confirming that their records have been expunged.
Clearing of Records Part of Marijuana Legalization Laws
This process of automatically dismissing and expunging marijuana convictions is part of the marijuana decriminalization and legalization laws passed following the voter referendum that called for the legalization of cannabis in New Jersey. The package of laws also sets up a framework for legal marijuana sales to individuals age 21 and older, as well as ending arrests for possession of marijuana.
As part of the laws, the legislature has also called for eliminating criminal records of certain marijuana-related convictions, including selling less than one ounce of marijuana, possession of marijuana for personal use, possession of marijuana in a vehicle, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The judiciary’s orders for vacating, dismissing, and expunging marijuana arrest and conviction records applies to both old cases as well as individuals currently serving sentences of incarceration, probation, or parole, and those with pending marijuana-related criminal charges.
Why Expungement of Marijuana Records Is Important
In the past, New Jersey has had a difficult and complex criminal record expungement process for offenders. People had to petition the courts to establish their eligibility for expungement under state law. In recent years, New Jersey has been reforming the expungement system in the state, including expanding eligibility, eliminating filing fees, and beginning to move parts of the process online. The goal is ultimately to fully automate the expungement system so that offenders will have little or no work on their part to obtain an expungement if they are eligible to receive one.
Expunging the records of those persons who were arrested and convicted of marijuana-related offenses is an important goal for social justice advocates. Having a criminal record makes it difficult for people to secure employment, housing, or educational opportunities, even when records are years or even decades old. In addition, because marijuana laws are seen as having been disproportionately enforced against African American and Black communities, having a process by which convictions and arrests are automatically dismissed and the expungement of the records will alleviate the social burdens that these communities experience due to the stigma of criminal records.
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