For justice in marijuana legalization, automatic expungement has to be part of any plan, NJUMR & ACLU-NJ advocates say

June 4, 2018

Advocates from the ACLU of New Jersey and New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, along with other partners in efforts to legalize marijuana, testified in Trenton today with a message: for marijuana legalization to advance racial and social justice, automatic expungement must be approved simultaneously with any legislation ending marijuana prohibition in New Jersey. 

“Automatic expungement has to be an inextricable, central part of any legalization proposal the Legislature considers. Forcing people to bear the consequences of a criminal conviction for an offense that’s no longer considered a crime simply prolongs the injustices of the failed, discriminatory drug war,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha, who testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee. “To shift the burden of clearing the stain of an unjust law onto the people who have suffered from it unnecessarily already while others reap economic benefits contradicts the principles of equity, fairness, and justice that make legalization such an urgent racial and social justice priority to begin with.”

Gathered to testify at a hearing in the Assembly Judiciary Committee convened by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, who has introduced a bill that would expedite expungement, advocates spoke in support of making the expungement process automatic for anyone convicted of a now-legal marijuana offense. In addition to the ACLU-NJ, several steering committee members of NJUMR took to the dais in support of automatic expungement, including Safeer Quraishi of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, JH Barr of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association, and Bill Caruso of Archer & Greiner.

Expungement requires navigating complex legal bureaucracies, paying fees up to hundreds of dollars, and often hiring legal counsel. In California, for example, more than a million people were eligible for expungements, but fewer than 5,000 even applied in the first year of legalization in the state, according to data the Drug Policy Alliance.

“We know that the process of expungement is expensive and complex, and we know that people who are eligible often don’t apply because of the barriers involved,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Dianna Houenou. “To begin repairing the harms of prohibition, we must automatically clear the names of the people who have been most affected by our misguided laws and their discriminatory enforcement, and it has to be part of legalization itself. Ending marijuana arrests alone without clearing people’s names after they’ve suffered harsh consequences sends an unacceptable message about how we should treat people who have been victimized by our laws for too long already.”

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