The New Jersey Judiciary vacated or dismissed close to 88,000 pending cannabis cases since July 1, the day the state’s decriminalization law took effect. Provisions of the new law stipulate the courts must ensure such relief for individuals still facing marijuana-related charges.
According to a press release issued by the New Jersey Judiciary, these 88,000 cases are the first of an estimated 360,000 marijuana cases eligible for automatic vacation, dismissal or expungement, which is likely to take several months to process. What’s more, marijuana-related violations of probation will be vacated, while suspensions and revocations of driver’s licenses for not appearing in court to face cannabis charges will be rescinded.
Cases which are considered eligible for expungement include convictions for selling or possessing up to one ounce of marijuana, possessing drug paraphernalia or for being intoxicated by cannabis, though individuals can also petition the court for expungement if they’re unsure whether they meet this criteria. As part of the expungement process of cannabis records in New Jersey, the judiciary has created an electronic system enabling staff to communicate with and issue certificates to those seeking confirmation their record has been cleared.
The New Jersey Judiciary’s announcement follows the state’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner issuing an order to dismiss pending marijuana cases. And that order followed Gov. Phil Murphy signing companion cannabis legalization and decriminalization bills into law in March, with the former measure necessitated by New Jersey voters’ approval of a ballot measure at the 2020 election to legalize recreational cannabis.
New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal (D), has played an active role to ensure a smooth transition away from marijuana prohibition since Gov. Murphy signed the legalization bill into law. The next day, Grewal ordered prosecutors to drop marijuana-related cases and issued police with guidance on how to now behave with the public in situations involving cannabis.
When it comes to selling cannabis ahead of the official launch of retail sales, however, Attorney General Grewal has taken a hard line. He sent a letter to companies suspected of “gifting” cannabis to customers that purchased non-marijuana products as a way to bypass licensing requirements to remind them of the law in this regard. While gifting marijuana is legal between adults 21 and older, it is not permitted if the ‘gift’ is conditional on an accompanying purchase.
It remains unclear exactly when licensed retail sales of cannabis will start in New Jersey. The state’s cannabis regulator is yet to issue any marijuana businesses licenses, and is still in the process of drafting the rules that will govern New Jersey’s legal marijuana market.
New Jersey is one of twenty states that now have legislation in effect that facilitates expungement of cannabis-related convictions. Since legal sales launched in Illinois at the start of last year, the state has expunged nearly half a million marijuana-related conviction records, while California officials have expunged several hundred thousand cannabis convictions since the plant was legalized there two years ago.