Lawmakers on Thursday are slated to vote on a measure to set up an expungement process for certain cannabis-related offenses, and hear from the public on a voter ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana.
Legislative leadership plans to put the question of whether or not to legalize marijuana in the state for adult-use before voters in the 2020 presidential election. The constitutional amendment was introduced in late November by Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District.
The measure calls for the Cannabis Regulatory Commission – already being set up to oversee New Jersey’s rapidly expanding medical marijuana market – to regulate the recreational market. Only the sales tax would be levied against cannabis sales.
The Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee will hold its hearing on the lower house version – Assembly Concurrent Resolution 840 – at 10 a.m. Then at 1 p.m., the Senate Commerce Committee will hear from the public on the upper house version: Senate Concurrent Resolution 183.
Lawmakers would have until August to approve the ballot question by a supermajority in both houses before it can go to the voters. They would also have the option to approve the question by a simple majority for two consecutive years. But, it is not clear whether that means two consecutive calendar years, which gives them an initial Dec. 31, 2019 deadline, or two consecutive legislative sessions, which gives them until Gov. Phil Murphy’s Jan. 14, 2020 State of the State address.
Lawmakers will consider whether to approve the marijuana expungement measure at the 11 a.m. Assembly Appropriations Committee, even though the substance would still be illegal under state law.
Assembly Bill 5981 establishes an automatic “clean slate” proposal desired by Murphy, which will eventually replace the expungement process enacted under the measure. It will seal cannabis-related offenses after 10 years and make them inaccessible to most of the public.
The Legislature would set aside $15 million for the Department of Law and Public Safety to handle the implementation of these changes to the criminal justice system. It reduces the waiting period before a person could apply for expungement.
The expungement application process would be revamped so that it would be more accessible to residents. It eliminates related court fees and sets up an electronic filing system.
In recent weeks, Murphy and the two most powerful state lawmakers – Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, – have all thrown their weight behind decriminalization.
Murphy called decriminalization “short-term” relief while the state awaits full-on legalization. But there are multiple decriminalization proposals floating through the statehouse, and the prospects are still uncertain for which one could land on Murphy’s desk.