Lawmakers are planning to merge a bill that would expunge low-level cannabis criminal offenses with another that would decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana.
A Monday vote was pulled from the Assembly Judiciary Committee for Assembly Bill 5325 – the decriminalization proposal, but the reasoning has not been made clear.
“That’s the idea,” Sen. Joe Vitale, D-19th District, told reporters following the vote on Senate Bill 3205 – the expungement proposal – when asked if lawmakers did in fact plan to merge both pieces of legislation.
The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, which Vitale Chairs, approved the expungement bill in a 6-0 vote, with an abstention from Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District.
“I can’t vote this bill out,” O’Scanlon said, admitting that he would be open to approving the expungement measure should it come before him as a full-floor Senate vote. “I do sympathize with expungement. I have concerns with how we’re treating possession above one ounce.”
The lower house version, Assembly Bill 4498, has still not been voted on in the currently ongoing Assembly Judiciary Committee.
S3205 would roughly halve the expungement waiting period from six to three years, also known as expedited expungement, under the committee amendments approved Monday morning. The measure creates a so-called “virtual expungement,” where convictions could not be grounds for denial of housing and employment opportunities.
The measure also requires the state judiciary to set up an electronic application process for expungement.
The expungable amount would stay at between 1 ounce and 5 pounds of possession.
That matter has been a sticking point for talks to legalize marijuana since lawmakers on the fence have been worried that the only people with a conviction of five pounds of cannabis would be dealers and not run-of-the-mill users.
But S3205 would be largely dependent on the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, otherwise the state would be expunging an action still illegal and prosecuted under state law.
“If you expunge somebody’s criminal record, it’s hard to keep arresting them and arresting them,” said Bill Caruso, co-chair of the cannabis practice at Archer Law. “There’s a lot of supporters of legalization and a lot of opponents of legalization that also thought that some level of decriminalization would be acceptable.”
Sen. Ron Rice, D-28th District, a vocal opponent of the legalization bill, said he wanted to propose banning any legislation tie-barred together. That is, one bill cannot be effective without the enactment of the other.
Lawmakers are pushing for a full floor vote in both the state Senate and Assembly on May 23, but the measures could possibly be pushed back for the week after Memorial Day weekend, Viltale said.