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Guest Opinion: Expungement Delayed is Justice Denied. NJ’s ongoing Cannabis Farce

Guest opinion 4

The pitch to legalize adult use cannabis in New Jersey includes amends to people who’ve been unfairly or disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs. Cannabis legalization is coming to New Jersey, it’s a matter of when at this point.

But what about all those people still getting locked up for something that’s legal in other states? And what happens to the criminal records of low-level, non-violent pot offenders once cannabis becomes a multi-billion dollar business here in New Jersey?

Amol Sinha, who runs ACLU NJ reminded me on Twitter that, despite all this expungement talk, 100 people still get locked up for weed in New Jersey every single day.

That’s 37,000 cannabis arrests every year in New Jersey.

“The idea that we can expunge criminal records for cannabis without dealing with the underlying criminality issue is preposterous,” Cannabis advocate/lobbyist Bill Caruso added on Twitter.

So legalization. Or at least decriminalization as triage.

But because Democrats in Trenton can’t stop fighting (and the NJGOP is mostly inept) meaningful drug reform remains elusive.

Smoking cannabis is still a crime. So cops are demonstrably content to use our drug laws to punish (mostly black) people. You don’t really think they’re arresting pretty white girls in Montclair for weed, do you?

In the fall of 2016, NJ Senator Declan O’Scanlon (pictured) and a few dozen Jersey politicos trekked to Colorado to confirm that the sky did not fall after a 2012 plebiscite legalized adult use cannabis.

I covered that trip for Leafly and – hand to god – that trip all work and no play.

Something then-Assemblyman O’Scanlon said on that trip really stuck.

“The earning power of those who become ensnared into the (criminal justice) system is greatly reduced and that costs all of us,” O’Scanlon said. “No one benefits when you have folks stuck in a dead-end job their whole life.”

That logic applies to expungements as well. We’re clearing the records of people unfairly harmed by the war on drugs so that they can more meaningfully contribute to our shared society. And that should appeal to lawmakers from both parties.

Alas, the momentum to expunge low-level pot crimes has stalled as cannabis arrest continue at a rapid clip, 100 a day in New Jersey.

I’ll resist the urge to go on for another 800 words because this needs to be pithy and easy to digest for myriad lawmakers currently on vacation.

This is just a nudge. It’s not a guilt trip. I’m not here to kill anyone’s vacation buzz.

Not yet anyway.

Jay Lassiter is an award-winning journalist and podcaster who’s trying to get the government out of your bong. He’s on Twitter @Jay_Lass


published | July 29, 2019