Ayr Wellness, one of New Jersey’s original medical cannabis dispensaries, is hosting a series of expungement clinics around the region this weekend. This includes a free NJ clinic on Saturday Feb 25 at the Melao Cafe at 1425 Irving Street in Rahway. (Info here, RSVP here.)
For decades, Marijuana convictions have hobbled the professional and personal prospects of those ensnared by the criminal justice system for weed. Blessedly, in New Jersey, those days are behind us. Now the the hard work begins undoing the damage caused by America’s punitive approach to pot.
Expungement clinics will also take place in Philly and Brooklyn, as well as Connecticut and Massachusett. So if you’ve got people there, let them know about these events, billed as “a community expungement series assisting in clearing cannabis records and restoring civic rights” for low-level, non-violent marijuana convictions.
According to Khari Edwards, Ayr Wellness’ Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, “this is Ayr’s second annual Changing Legacies expungement series. Last year we hosted more than 400 attendees across our clinics in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and Connecticut. More than 200 attendees began or completed the expungement process.”
On one hand, 200 is a drop in the bucket in New Jersey. But AYR scores by modeling this behavior to other NJ dispensaries which surely have the resources (and indeed the obligation) to undo some of the damage caused by America’s pot laws.
According to Mr. Edwards, who landed at #44 on InsiderNJ’s most recent Cannabis Power List, this weekend’s efforts “seek to provide those who have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs with access to tools that can help rebuild their lives. As part of this program, Ayr works directly with local nonprofits and vendors who can offer legal counsel, housing services, re-entry integration support and more. Blaze Responsibly, our main partner for the New Jersey event, is focused on education and empowerment within the legal cannabis space. In addition to their partnership, our on-site vendors will include a variety of re-entry and other wraparound services”
In that spirit, this weekend’s events will help folks clear their record and also access housing assistance and obtain proper ID, a huge barrier for many coming out of our jails and prisons.
I’ll be there in Rahway this weekend and not just as a journalist.
In 2011, shortly after NJ legalized medical cannabis but before the dispensaries were up and running, I was arrested for smoking pot in my Cherry Hill home.
Picture it: I’m in the kitchen making dinner when our 1950’s-era stove suddenly caught fire. I phoned 911 who told me to get out immediately. Blessedly, the fire caused an electrical short which actually extinguished the fire while plunging the house into darkness. The fire brigade arrived shortly thereafter followed by the cops.
And when the lights came back on, one of the cops saw my bong.
“You’ve got a choice,” the cop snarled, my heart still racing. “You can give me all the weed in the house or I can get a warrant and tear this place apart and find it myself” and I complied.
Basically, I called 911 for help only to be led away in handcuffs for doing a bong hit in my kitchen.
Two trips to court, lawyers fees, and a $600 fine later, I was ostensibly out of legal trouble. And thanks largely to my complexion clean criminal record, I got myself a sort of legal mulligan. That’s privilege for ya, but this blemish remains and I want it gone before I apply for Global Entry. Apparently, US Customs and Borden Protection digs very deeps into an applicant’s past before rendering their verdict and I won’t apply until my low-level, non-violent bong crime is expunged from my record.
Skipping the line at customs is a bougie thing. Losing that privilege pales in comparison to losing your kids or your job or your voting rights which can also happen simply because someone did a bong hit in their home.
Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster based in Cherry Hill. He smokes pot every day.