NJ has expunged over 300k cannabis convictions this past year. Unless you grow your own which (still) means 5 years in jail.
Around this time last year, NJ Governor Phil Murphy signed several laws to stop marijuana-related incarcerations in New Jersey. That effort complements an impressive push by the Murphy administration to expunge over 300,000 low-level pot convictions.
“Reversing the damage inflicted on Black and Brown communities by the failed War on Drugs was a core objective of our efforts to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis,” Gov. Murphy told InsiderNJ. “Hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans have been unfairly held back in their lives and their careers over minor marijuana convictions. Allowing them to clear their records and move on will always be one of my proudest moments.”
The expungement of low level pot crimes usually gets the social justice frame and that makes sense considering minorities are 4x more likely to get busted for weed than white people are.
But it’s an economic issue too.
So when Gov. Murphy noted the “held back” part, it’s because when someone gets a criminal record for weed, that hampers their professional prospects for a lifetime.
And that’s an economic burden we all share.
“More than 360,000 marijuana convictions have been expunged since legalization,” noted ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Joe Johnson. “That’s a tangible step toward greater racial and social justice.”
It’s a tangible step and a remarkable milestone, even if we are still locking folks who grow their own.
When medical cannabis dispensaries hire lobbyists in Trenton, they’re not lobbying for us, the patients. They’re lobbying for themselves, usually against us. For example: to defend their marketshare, NJ’s medical cannabis dispensaries have aggressively lobbied against provisions for the home cultivation of cannabis.
That’s why cultivation remains extremely illegal in NJ where, despite a wildly successful recreational cannabis referendum, you can still go to jail for 5 years for a single pot plant.
That’s the opposite is social justice. And it put NJ out-of-line with nearly everywhere else in America where cannabis is legal.
NJ Senator Jean Stanfield reps NJ’s 8th legislative district. A former Burlington Co. Sheriff, she calls cannabis reform an issue of “liberty” and recently co-sponsored legislation, S353, to legalize the home cultivation of cannabis for recreational AND medicinal purposes.
“Since marijuana is now legal in New Jersey, it’s crazy people can’t grow their own at home,” Senator Stanfield told InsiderNJ. “For many this is medicine which insurance doesn’t cover so many patients in my district can’t afford it. I have Vietnam Veterans who come up to me at events and tell me they can’t afford their medicine and so we need to do more to help them.”
Senator Stanfield’s sponsorship made this bill a bipartisan affair. And if a republican former sheriff from NJ’s most competitive district thinks it’s time to grow our own weed, then we’ve definitely crossed the point of no return on the homegrow issue.
The only question is how much longer will Democratic legislators (who control Trenton) remain in line with a marijuana industry keen to lock down the entire marketplace for themselves.
NJ Senate President Nick Scutari sounds like he wants to have it both ways.
“I’m not against marijuana being grown at home for medical purposes and maybe even just recreational purposes,” Scutari told industry insiders. “But we’ve got to let this industry … it’s not even off the ground yet.”
First off all, this industry has been selling medical marijuana in NJ since 2012, a decade-long runway to get “off the ground” and at $500 for an ounce, it seems like this industry is doing quite well. Maybe that why everyone’s clamoring for a piece.
Secondly, Sen. Scutari runs the NJ Senate. If not against home grow, he can post Sen. Stanfield’s bill and let’s debate the merits of this bipartisan legislation.
Let’s hear industry naysayers publicly defend incarcerating sick people who grow their own medicine.
Platkin enters chat
The tremendous lobbying clout of NJ’s cannabis industry means that home cultivation will probably languish for the time being.
But there’s a workaround that could get us halfway there, if not for recreational users, at the very least for NJ’s 130,000 (or so) medical cannabis patients.
NJ’s Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin could ostensibly decriminalize home cultivation with a memorandum of guidance to New Jersey’s 21 county prosecutors to not prosecute those who runs afoul of NJ’s absurdly punitive anti-home grow laws.
It’s not the whole loaf or or even half a loaf.
But it’s a heckuva lot better than locking people up for weed.
Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster based in Cherry Hill, NJ.