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Why is New Jersey Still Penalizing People for Weed?

When Governor Phil Murphy signed a series of laws to legalize adult cannabis use in New Jersey, he spoke out on the state’s course of action, ensuring that the legislation would reflect the dire need for fairness, expungement and long-awaited justice for victims. of the country’s war on drugs.

The state court initially appeared to stick to its word, clearing over 360,000 cannabis convictions in the first months of legalization.

However, that hasn’t stopped the New Jersey government from contradicting itself entirely, as a June 2022 appeal panel just ruled against four men with expunged cannabis records attempting to participate in a diversion program for first-time offenders.

To put it bluntly our reaction: WTF?

The cannabis industry has been intertwined with the nation’s war on drugs for decades, and while legalization should mean ending this unfair targeting of consumers and operators, it hasn’t in most countries. regions.

“The primary goals of our administration’s cannabis reform efforts have always been to promote social justice and reverse decades of disparate treatment of minority and low-income New Jerseyans due to the failure of war on drugs,” Murphy said. in a statement published at NORML.

“I am extremely proud that the decriminalization of cannabis has led to a reduction in unnecessary arrests among communities of color. Social justice will continue to guide our ongoing efforts toward establishing New Jersey’s adult-use recreational cannabis market.

While the state has continued to award a number of expungements to cannabis convicts marring their records, some of the aftermath proves that this move isn’t as groundbreaking as it casually sounds.

Not only the state government continue to target cannabis operators and consumers (particularly in the still thriving legacy market) under the still federally illegal loophole, but those who benefited from the record erasure aren’t really benefiting overall.

A great (and surprisingly recent) example of this is the June 2022 ruling against four men with prior cannabis convictions that were erased from their records – or so they thought.

The four men were seeking to participate in a diversion program for first-time offenders. Each man had a previous conviction for non-violent cannabis, as well as a more recent charge for more serious offences, ranging from attempted burglary to conspiracy to commit credit card fraud.

If cannabis suppressions are taken seriously, then these men are all first-time offenders, and therefore fully qualified for the diversion program.

At first, three of the four cases appeared to have been properly considered, as trial judges approved pre-trial intervention on the grounds that these prior cannabis discharges did not count as a first offense.

However, Judge Hany A. Mawla reversed those three rulings to reflect the fourth, in which it was determined that the defendant had already used his “one shot” in a diversionary program when his cannabis charge was cleared.

Many cannabis activists in the region are trying to fight the decision, both to bring justice to the four men and to establish fairer practices for cannabis removals in the future.

“The appeals court took a very narrow reading of what the marijuana legalization bill did, and it ignored the fact that the legalization bill was explicitly designed to remedy to the gross injustice that had been perpetuated by the marijuana prohibition regime,” said Alexandre Shalomsenior supervising attorney and director of defense of the Supreme Court at the ACLU-NJ, in an interview.

“We have the idea that generally we only want to give people a bite of an apple. But what if the thing they got the first hijack for was something so discriminatory and so bad? »

Essentially, the puzzling discrepancy can be attributed to two of the state’s laws: the Diversion Program Act of 2013 and the decriminalization of cannabis in 2021 in New Jersey. The languages ​​of the statutes are at odds with each other, which needs to be resolved before more people are unfairly targeted for their cannabis history than they have been led to believe will no longer count against them.

Proposed legislation is already in the works, thanks to the actions of the ACLU-NJ and state assemblies that support cannabis progress and justice.

Congressman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson) and Assemblywomen Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) and Annette Quijano (D-Union) presented Bill A1978 in January 2022, which, if passed, would allow anyone with a previous cannabis conviction to participate in a pre-trial diversion program if charged with a new crime.

Passage of this bill could be groundbreaking, both for New Jersey residents who hope to be treated with the fairness they were originally promised when cannabis was decriminalized, and for the rest of the working country. always on legal cannabis programs that make sense.

However, New Jersey still has a long way to go with non-violent cannabis enthusiasts like Humberto Ramirez still lives behind bars.

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