Ahmad Reed was caught by police in 2015 with eight bags of marijuana. He thought that by paying a $455 fine, the issue would be behind him. He didn’t know that his non-violent marijuana offense would hinder him in the job market even years later.
“I have a wife and children I need to provide for,” he said. “[But] my ability to support my family has been shattered.”
Because of his conviction, he’s had to work a slew of temporary jobs, sometimes making only $40 a day.
“Non-violent cannabis offenders such as myself should be given the opportunity to work and obtain a decent job. It’s hard to move forward with a situation that transpires like this on an everyday basis,” Reed said.
Mayors Ras Baraka of Newark, Steven Fulop of Jersey City, Timothy McDonough of Hope, Colleen Mahr of Fanwood, Michael Venezia of Bloomfield, Christine Dansereau of Roselle, and Janice Kovach of Clinton gathered at Newark City Hall Wednesday to call for the expungement of non-violent cannabis convictions.
Councilwomen Denise Wilkerson and Keiona Miller of Roselle and North Plainfield joined them.
A discussion around the legalization of marijuana cannot happen without a conversation around expungement.
– Newark Mayor Ras Baraka
The coalition of mayors and councilwomen called upon lawmakers to pass legislation that will expunge all misdemeanor convictions for possession of cannabis and review all felony offenses for downgrade and expungement.
“We believe that anybody with a possession of 50 grams or less should be expunged right away,” Baraka said. “We think that this is a good faith effort and those things need to happen at once. A discussion around the legalization of marijuana cannot happen without a conversation around expungement.”
Without the inclusion of broader expungement in the legislation that legalizes cannabis, Baraka said, he will not allow dispensaries in his city.
“We know the state cannot achieve the dividends they think they’re going to without the participation of the municipalities. If we back out of it, I think it’s moot that the state even moves forward with this in any direction,” Baraka said.
With an arrest on a person’s record, Mahr said, it’s hard to get a job, a license, a loan, or a mortgage, and “actually positively contribute to our community.”
“We all deserve a justice system that’s fair and not based on the color of money or the color of your skin,” she said.
The mayors plan on reaching out to the leadership of both houses, Mahr said, to address the importance of expungement of non-violent cannabis convictions moving forward.