New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and some legislators have come up with a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis in the state. They have outlined plans for taxes, as well as for an expedited expungement process for low-level cannabis-related convictions.
However, Gov. Murphy has vetoed parts of Senate Bill 3205, which would have made way for the expungement of certain non-violent cannabis-related criminal charges. According to him, the measure did not go far enough.
Murphy said that he applauds the commitment of the bill’s sponsors towards upholding social justice, as well as their efforts to correct the wrongs that were unfairly inflicted by a flawed criminal justice system on certain communities. He believes the bill can “go further for the cause of justice.”
The governor instead recommended that the Senate consider updating the bill to allow for minor cannabis-related criminal convictions to be automatically wiped out. He likewise suggested the removal of barriers like legal fees and complicated court documents.
Murphy’s modified proposal is going to seal the records of people with low-level cannabis charges as a stopgap measure while waiting for the expungement to take effect. The state defines “low-level cannabis charges” as either the possession of less than 50 grams of weed, or the distribution of less than 1 ounce of the drug.
New Jersey’s civil rights advocates are applauding Murphy’s move, describing it as a sensible response to the country’s shifting views on marijuana.
In a statement, Amol Sinha, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey executive director, said that the governor’s conditional veto puts the state on the path to ensure that those burdened with criminal convictions — mostly people of color — will no longer need to navigate a burdensome legal system before they can obtain the well-documented benefits of expungement. They will instead be able to see their records wiped out as soon as they are eligible.
Under New Jersey’s current and limited expungement program, individuals who wish to have their records wiped out will need to spend more than $1,000. This makes it one of the priciest expungement programs in the country.
The current version of the bill, which Murphy vetoed after legislators passed it in June, would likewise require individuals qualified for expungement to shell out for legal costs on their own. In order to qualify for the program, individuals should have a clean criminal record for 10 years.
Murphy, in his veto message, urged lawmakers to invest in a computerized and automated system. He acknowledged that setting up an automated system would not happen overnight, though. As such, he intends to establish a task force responsible for studying the technological, fiscal, practical and resource issues and challenges of establishing such system.