The New Jersey Judiciary announced on Thursday that the state has expunged more than 362,000 marijuana cases since July 1, when a decriminalization law took effect that mandated the relief for people who have been caught up in prohibition enforcement. The courts also said that they will be launching a public education campaign next week to help even more people understand the opportunities for relief under the law.
In the meantime, roughly 1,200 people have also been released from probation since their cannabis expungements were processed.
The courts previously estimated that around 360,000 people were eligible for relief under the new law, so it appears that the review process has effectively identified most of those cases.
— New Jersey Courts (@njcourts) September 16, 2021
These actions, first reported by NJ.com, come after state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner issued an order in July that also makes it so certain pending marijuana cases must be dismissed, and failure to appear warrants must be rescinded.
“Cases with offenses eligible for expungement include certain marijuana or hashish charges alone or in combination with the following: possession of drug paraphernalia; use or being under the influence of a controlled, dangerous substance; and failure to make lawful disposition of a controlled, dangerous substance,” the Judiciary said in its update on Thursday.
Those who aren’t automatically eligible for expungement can still file a motion for judicial review, it said. The Administrative Office of the Courts also plans to launch an “awareness campaign” on September 20 to “inform the public of the opportunities available through the Marijuana Decriminalization Law.”
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed companion marijuana legalization and decriminalization bills in February. The legislature was required to pass the former measure after voters approved a reform referendum during the November 2020 election.
“With our new cannabis laws, we are turning the page on the failed War on Drugs and ensuring social justice here in New Jersey,” the governor said in a tweet about the recent record clearing moves.
362,000 marijuana cases already expunged. Thousands more to come.
With our new cannabis laws, we are turning the page on the failed War on Drugs and ensuring social justice here in New Jersey.https://t.co/NMNCCcIlib
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) September 13, 2021
New Jersey officials have separately been proactive about cannabis reform implementation since the legalization bill was enacted.
The day after Murphy signed the legalization legislation, then-Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) directed prosecutors to drop cases for cannabis-related offenses and issued separate guidance for police on how to proceed under the updated laws.
The attorney general also encouraged prosecutorial discretion for marijuana cases in earlier memos prior to the bill’s signing.
Grewal also took steps to ensure that people aren’t exploiting provisions of the legalization law before retail sales launch. In June, he sent warning letters to companies that were effectively circumventing the state’s marijuana laws by “gifting” cannabis in exchange for non-marijuana-related purchases such as overpriced cookies, brownies and stickers.
Gifting is lawful between adults 21 and older under New Jersey’s adult-use cannabis law, but a number of businesses have allegedly taken advantage of that policy by giving away “free” cannabis products to those who purchase other items like snacks and baked goods.
No retail marijuana businesses have been licensed since the state enacted recreational legalization earlier this year. But regulators approved initial rules for the program last month that will set up the state’s retail market.
More than 70 percent of municipalities in the state have opted to ban cannabis businesses from operating in their area, but voters haven’t had a direct say in the local decisions so far, with local officials making the choice through city councils.
That said, elected officials from several areas who do support cannabis commercialization chose to enact a ban ahead of an August 22 deadline simply to give themselves more time to develop individualized regulations before greenlighting marijuana companies.