In July, courts across the state of New Jersey began to expunge 362,000 criminal records relating to low-level cannabis cases. This comes after the state’s Supreme Court issued an order earlier this year detailing the process of expunging cannabis offensives. Charges include cannabis possession, selling less than one ounce of cannabis and possession of cannabis paraphernalia. There is also the potential of having an additional 125,000 to 150,000 cases expunged according to MaryAnn Soto, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Judiciary.
New Jersey legalized adult-use cannabis in November 2020 following a ballot initiative that received a whopping 67 percent approval from voters.
On February 22, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the legalization of adult-use cannabis along with decriminalizing small amounts. The bill also made it so that towns can no longer produce laws with civil consequences or fines associated with underage consumption or possession of cannabis on private property.
The new law, Assembly 21, which also covers alcohol, states that anyone possessing or consuming alcohol or cannabis underage be subjected to a written warning followed by a parental warning and referral to community services if multiple violations occur.
Those whose records were not automatically expunged with the passing of the measure can file a motion with the state Supreme Court to have the charges removed.
The mass expungement of cannabis-related charges is set to disproportionately assist people of color in New Jersey, particularly Black New Jerseyans. The American Civil Liberties Union found that Black New Jerseyans were 31.8 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white New Jerseyans.
New Jersey is not the only state to allow expungement of cannabis convictions. States such as California and Connecticut already have or are in the works of having automatic expungement programs for certain cannabis-related offenses. As per the passage of New York's Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) in March of this year, over 100,000 cannabis-related charges were automatically expunged.
Virginia is planning on establishing automatic expungement for cannabis charges, but it will not go into effect until 2025. There would be automatic expungement of non-violent misdemeanor cannabis charges along with deferred dismissals of underage cannabis possession.
In Pennsylvania, while cannabis has not yet been decriminalized, there was a review board set up in 2019 to assess nonviolent cannabis cases for expungement. Pennsylvania also allows for the medicinal sale and use of cannabis, similar to West Virginia.
If you live in New Jersey and would like to confirm that your record has been expunged, you must attend a court in-person and bring identification with you. Information on which court to visit can be found on newjerseycourts.gov.