As soon as marijuana became legal for recreational use in New Jersey, one of the first questions that a lot of people asked was: What about those individuals who were previously convicted of marijuana possession? Now, the NJ Supreme Court has weighed in and set forth guidelines for anyone who wants to get a prior conviction for simple possession of marijuana removed, or “expunged,” from their permanent record. To find out more, keep reading this blog.
NJ Cannabis Decriminalization Law Allows for Expungement of Past Marijuana Convictions
It used to be illegal for anyone to have any amount of marijuana in New Jersey. A person found in possession of marijuana could be arrested and charged with a drug crime that carried the very real possibility of jail time. Worse yet, anyone found by law enforcement with a large quantity of marijuana on their person or under their control could be charged with the crime of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, an offense that often resulted in significant prison time. Much of that changed, however, when the state officially legalized marijuana for recreational use in February 2021. Now, it is no longer against the law for individuals to possess small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
One thing that NJ lawmakers gave plenty of consideration to when creating the rules and regulations for the state’s new cannabis economy was what to do about the hundreds of thousands of people who have previously been convicted of simple possession of marijuana. After all, given that cannabis possession was now legal, it seemed unfair to continue to punish individuals who still have to explain their criminal records for a prior marijuana-related conviction.
The types of marijuana offenses that used to be prohibited by the NJ Criminal Code included the following:
- Simple possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana
- Selling less than 1 ounce of marijuana
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
- Driving under the influence of marijuana
- Possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle
A drug crime conviction can do real damage to a person’s life, especially when that person applies for a job, attempts to get housing, or seeks student loan assistance. That is why other states, like Colorado and Illinois, have specifically allowed for prior marijuana convictions to be expunged from permanent records.
NJ Supreme Court Says Marijuana Charges Can Be Removed from Criminal Records
The good news for anyone who has been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a marijuana offense is that they should have the ability to get the drug offense removed from their permanent records. That’s because the NJ Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that reiterates what state lawmakers already stated in the marijuana decriminalization bill: that certain marijuana offenses are supposed to be automatically expunged from people’s records now that cannabis is legal. The court noted that as many as one million people may be in line to have marijuana charges expunged under the guidelines established by the cannabis decriminalization law.
The court’s ruling could have an effect not only on individuals who were already convicted of marijuana crimes, but also people who are currently moving through the NJ criminal justice system with pending charges for marijuana possession, as well as people presently incarcerated in a state or county correctional facility on marijuana charges.
NJ Automatic Expungement Process for Cannabis Convictions Still Not Ready
The bad news for anyone with a previous marijuana arrest or conviction is that the process for clearing a marijuana offense from a person’s criminal record can be complicated and time-consuming, not to mention expensive if the assistance of an attorney is needed. That’s because the process for clearing any criminal conviction, guilty plea, or arrest from a person’s record is hard. Expungement applications typically take more than a year to work their way through the legal system before they are approved and implemented. And even when the application has been approved, the assistance of a qualified attorney may be required in order to notify all the relevant government agencies so that they can seal the individual’s records.
Although the decriminalization legislation included provisions mandating “automatic expungements” for marijuana convictions, the automatic expungement process for marijuana convictions has not yet gone into effect. Moreover, it is unknown when that process might be ready for implementation because “technological modifications” are still needed for the courts’ case management systems. This means that, at least for the foreseeable future, someone who wants to get their marijuana arrest, conviction, or guilty plea removed from their record will have to file an expungement application and then wait patiently for that application to be granted.
Marijuana Decriminalization Expected to Create Burgeoning Cannabis Economy in New Jersey
The main reason that marijuana convictions are now eligible for automatic expungement is that recreational marijuana is finally legal in New Jersey. Industry observers expect the state’s new cannabis economy to generate hundreds of millions of dollars. The regulated industry is already attracting major cannabis operators who see an opportunity to get in on the ground floor, so to speak, and establish a strong presence in the Tri-State Area, especially now that recreational marijuana is also legal in neighboring New York.
Contact Scythian Cannabis Real Estate
Scythian Real Estate is a privately held cannabis real estate fund that has strong relationships with several of the country’s top cannabis operators, including Grassroots Cannabis (Curaleaf) and The Green Solution (Columbia Care). If you are a cannabis operator interested in adding capital through a sale-leaseback transaction, or if you are looking for assistance with entry into a new cannabis market, Scythian may be able to help you. Send us an email today.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS BLOG IS NEITHER AN OFFER TO SELL NOR A SOLICITATION OF AN OFFER TO BUY SECURITIES IN SCYTHIAN REAL ESTATE FUND.