Marijuana Legalization in NJ. How Fair? Who Wins? What about Expungement?

Apparently there’s a deal to legalize cannabis in NJ.

Senate President Steve Sweeney told an audience at Monmouth University that a vote is imminent.

Our goal is March 25th,” Sweeney said.

If true, NJ would become the second state (after Vermont) to legalize cannabis legislatively. Ten states + DC have ended cannabis prohibition at the ballot box.

If NJ’s gambit works out, the Garden State would be the second legal state (after Washington) banning home cultivation. That’s an inauspicious distinction that reflects NJ’s overall tendency to empower the government at the expense of its citizenry.

Expungement Lies Myths

The pitch to legalize cannabis includes a justice component. It’s way past time to address the racial imbalance of cannabis arrests. Unfortunately, the so-called “automatic expungement” part of this legislation is, practically speaking, impossible to deliver.

“Most people will not be able to do an expungement petition themselves no matter how ‘easy’ the legislation claims,” Alma Saravia, attorney at Flaster Greenberg PC told InsiderNJ.

You have all been warned about a looming expungement crisis. I even joked that I needed an airhorn to underscore the point.

“In my experience, the expungement process will be a nightmare unless there’s major funding for vitally needed changes to the law,” Ms Saravia noted.

She said “nightmare.” I’m doing my best to wake y’all up.

Black and Latino lawmakers in NJ often represent districts disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. I challenge them to withhold their “YES” vote until they hear a satisfying answer to the “automatic expungement” question.

Something like that’s happening next door where, per NY Times: “Black Lawmakers to Block Legalized Marijuana in N.Y. if Their Communities Don’t Benefit.”

Supporters of NJ’s bill are racing to get something, anything, across the finish line. That’s exactly what happened with medical marijuana in NJ, a law passed over 10 years ago. Alas NJ’s program remains the most expensive, restrictive in all the land.


Did you see Governor Phil Murphy’s budget speech? He did a decent job. But if he’s thinks legalizing pot will generate $8om in tax revenue next year, I’d love a hit of whatever he’s smoking. Let’s skip the various assumptions baked into those projections and cut to the chase: so long as the black market is cheaper and more convenient, NJ’s regulated market won’t yield anything like $80m in taxes.

The strident opposition to home cultivation in Trenton created the cartel model we’re living in. Dispensaries in NJ are charging sick people up to $520 for an ounce of cannabis. I lack governor Murphy’s Wall Street acumen, but I know that increasing demand without addressing supply issues ensures a robust black market for the foreseeable future. Black market means 1) no taxes at all and 2) we’re all criminals again.

I’d tell you to put that in your pipe and smoke it. But at $500/oz, we can’t afford any more metaphors.


Who’s old enough to remember the old days when crappy Mexican brick weed was the only option? That stuff was full of seeds and stems and insecticides and god knows what else. No one complained. Honestly we were just glad when a dealer retuned our page in a timely manner.


It’s not lost on me that we’re on the cusp of cannabis legalization in NJ and I’m constantly bitching that it’s not good enough.

But it’s not good enough.

Anything not baked into the original cake is, by definition, an afterthought.

Yielding on home cultivation was a difficult and bitter pill for advocates to swallow. I won’t concede on expungements. It’s basic fairness. I’d rather convince the black caucus to tank the bill until they get concrete details how expungements will work.

The clock’s ticking.

Silver Linings

Packaged with legalization is S10, la bill to drastically improve NJ’s medical marijuana program. There’ve been marginal improvements over the years, but S10 would vault NJ from “awful” to “pretty good,” a decent consolation prize for some advocates, regardless of how the recreational debate plays out.

This legislation ramps down the 6.25% sales tax on medical marijuana purchases. Most critically, S10 eliminates the requirement that patients re-certify their qualifying condition every 30-, 60-, or 90 days just to stay in compliance with NJ’s regs.

“That’s a big deal,” Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) told InsiderNJ. “And with the new qualifying conditions, we dramatically provide much more flexibility. We’re letting doctors do what they want to do like we do with other drugs. ”

Currently, the department of health decides who qualifies for medical cannabis, another reflection of NJ’s tendency to empower the government at the expense of its own citizenry. If s10 passes, doctors and patients decide. Not bureaucrats and politicians.

After 10 long years, NJ is finally poised to fix its broken medical marijuana program. It’s instructive that it took so long to do something so easy and obvious.

That’s why it’s critical to get this expungement piece right the first time around.

Jay Lassiter is an award winning writer and podcaster with a commitment to liberty and the Oxford comma. He’s on Twitter @Jay_Lass.










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3 responses to “Marijuana Legalization in NJ. How Fair? Who Wins? What about Expungement?”

  1. Legalization of marijuana is the best way to get the right medicine to the most people. It makes marijuana a drug that any adult can purchase like aspirin. We have a chance to accomplish that now in NJ, and I think we should be focused on that.

    Marijuana reform is incremental. S2703 continues the process of criminal justice reform with an enhanced expungement process, along with a dramatic decrease in arrests. S2703 addresses social justice issues with many incentives for minorities, women and disabled veterans to become involved in the industry.

    It will take decades to rebuild our communities following the devastation of our long experiment in mass incarceration, but S2703 is a good start. Further, it will spur reform nationwide. You should support it, Jay.

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