A new bill introduced in the state Senate would reduce criminal penalties for cannabis and hashish-related offenses across the Garden State.
The proposed legislation, introduced by State Sens. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), Ronald Rice (D-28) and Sandra Bolden Cunningham (D-31), would develop an array of civil protections and promote awareness of an expungement process for criminal records related to crimes committed before the institution of the bill.
“The War on Drugs has ravaged communities of color for far too long. While we await voter approval of legalization, we cannot forget about those arrested and incarcerated every day on marijuana-related charges,” said State Sen. Ruiz.
Diminishing Punishment for Possession
The law would make the distribution and possession of one pound or less of marijuana to an unlawful act, subject first to a written warning. Following offenses would carry a civil penalty of $25 or community service.
State Sen. Rice noted that although the state would vote on the decision to legalize marijuana in the coming November elections, it remained important to decriminalize it.
“We cannot wait until the fall while countless members of the black and brown communities are targeted for marijuana-related offenses. If this state really wants to push social justice reform without an economic reward, this is how you achieve that goal,” she said.
Virtual Expunging of Records
The bill would allow for “virtual” expungement of certain marijuana and hashish offenses. Any arrest, charge, conviction for certain offenses that occurred prior to the bill’s enactment would be expunged.
The action would be automatic and without a need for a petition to the court. Additionally, all records relating to unlawful acts of marijuana or hashish possession or distribution would be sealed.
“This legislation will right the ship, revising the damaging criminal codes put in place under the war on drugs, which were intentionally created to target the black community,” said State Sen. Cunningham.