Medical marijuana expansion and expungement reforms moving forward in New Jersey

May 22, 2019

While New Jersey’s bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana is dead in the water, three major-marijuana related bills are still floating through the legislative process.

The Garden State legislature is currently scheduled to vote on a bill that would amend and expand upon the current Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, as well as proposed legislation that would amend the current expungement process for cannabis-related crimes. There’s even a bill that addresses the decriminalization of marijuana possession.

The State Assembly is currently scheduled to vote on the amendments to the Medical Marijuana Act as well as amendments to the current cannabis criminal records expungement process on May 23. The Assembly Appropriations Committee recently passed the decriminalization bill through, but the Senate has yet to introduce their version of the bill.

What the amendments to the Medical Marijuana Act would do

The proposed medical marijuana bill would expand upon the current Medical Marijuana Act by allowing patients to purchase up to three-ounces of cannabis per month. Additionally, the bill would legalize edible forms of medical marijuana and phase out the medical marijuana sales tax by 2025.

Under the current Medical Marijuana Act, patients may only purchase up to 2 ounces of marijuana per month. Legislators feel that by increasing the amount of marijuana patients may purchase on a monthly basis will ensure greater availability to patients in need.

“The state is about to take a major step in the evolution of how medical marijuana is available to our citizens,” state Assemblyman John Burzichelli, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, told Ashbury Park Press.

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“There is clear proof of the value of having this choice available to people. We’re touching up, doing statutorily housekeeping today to make sure that happens in a fashion that lets people who need help can get it,” Burzichelli concluded.

The expansion bill has enjoyed bipartisan support throughout the committee process, passing both the Senate Health and the Assembly Appropriations Committee earlier this week.

“While the [medical marijuana] bill’s not perfect … this is still light years ahead of our present program, and it’s at a time when it’s exactly appropriate,” bill sponsor Sen. Declan O’Scanlon said. “But there are no deal-killers in this bill.”

O’Scanlon had previously called for a quicker elimination of the medical marijuana sales tax, as well as a monthly limit increase to four ounces instead of three.

What would the expungement bill do?

The state-dubbed expungement bill would make certain crimes eligible for the expungement process, including offenses surrounding cannabis possession. The bill proposes to cut the current waiting time from sentencing to expungement to three years.

The expedited expungement process would be helped along with the establishment of a new “e-filing” system, where petitioners could electronically file for criminal record expungement. Additionally, the bill would create a new “clean slate” program for the state, where all offenses for anyone with a clean record for 10 years after their last conviction would be wiped off their record.

“Expungements are essential. They demonstrate that there has been a bona fide, good faith effort on behalf of the client to resume legal normalcy within the community,” said former state Gov. Jim McGreevey. “That cleanser⸺that after a 10-year period of time, the entire record is expunged⸺enables someone to have a fresh start.

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“If we don’t enable individuals to have the means to be gainfully employed, we will never bring them back into civil society,” McGreevey stated.

Like the bill proposing amendments to the Medical Marijuana Act, the expungement bill has moved through both the Senate Health and Assembly Appropriations Committees.

Decriminalization and the possibility of legalization

One bill that is still facing legislative rough waters is a proposed measure that would decriminalize the possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana for unauthorized users. If convicted of possession, a person could face a financial civil penalty, rather than jail time.

This bill was introduced less than a day after Sweeney announced that the Garden State’s marijuana legalization efforts would take a legislative backroad until 2020, when the issue will most likely be introduced as a referendum.

Currently, possession of less than 50 grams of cannabis is considered a fourth-degree crime, which, if convicted, can see a citizen facing a maximum of 18 months imprisonment and a whopping $10,000 fine.

Unfortunately, the bill seems to be facing a bit of a scheduling issue. The bill was originally supposed to be heard before the Assembly Judiciary Committee earlier this week, but was pulled upon the Committee convenening for “further internal discussions”.

The bill was added to the Assembly Appropriations Committee Agenda at the last minute, and passed with a 6-to-1 vote with one member abstaining.

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If the bill passes, a person carrying anywhere from two ounces to one pound of marijuana would receive a “disorderly persons” offense on the first conviction, which has a maximum sentence of 6 months of imprisonment and a mere $1,000 fine. Any further cannabis-related convictions would result in a fourth-degree crime conviction.

While New Jerseyans may have to wait until 2020 for a marijuana legalization referendum, they can at least see improvements in the medical marijuana program, as well as a potentially new expungement program.

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