The state Senate is slated to vote Thursday on changes Gov. Phil Murphy wants to see to a bill that would create a system for wiping certain marijuana offenses from an individual’s criminal record. However, it is not clear which changes lawmakers will approve.
“We’re not there yet, I know we’re still talking to each other,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, told NJBIZ. “We really thought we gave the governor a really good bill. And we’re trying to work with the governor to accommodate any concerns or fears he has.”
“I can’t say we’re there with the vote yet. I’m not saying we won’t be there. If there’s no agreement we’re not voting on it,” the senate president added.
Murphy vetoed Senate Bill 3205 in August shortly before Labor Day weekend, sending it back to lawmakers and arguing the state needs an automatic, digital process for expunging those types of convictions. The governor further argued the measure did not do enough to revamp and fix the state’s beleaguered and overburdened criminal records expungement system. To that end, he wants $15 million pumped into the state’s expungement apparatus, as well as a task force to gauge the types of technology needed to expand the system.
Murphy also proposed automatically sealing charges for low-level offenses, which he likened to “de facto decriminalization.”
“I believe the changes we made are meaningful and have strengthened this. I’m hopeful and optimistic,” Murphy said at an unrelated event in Morristown on Tuesday.
S3205 was part of a trio of cannabis bills which Murphy promised to enact in his first term.
Murphy has framed marijuana legalization as a social justice issue, pointing to the high rates of arrest and conviction for marijuana offenses among typically lower-income African American and Latino communities – an issue which he said expungement can address.
Still, Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-31st District, S3205’s main sponsor, condemned Murphy’s conditional veto, saying his proposals would weaken the expungement legislation.
“The proposed changes would significantly lessen the number of individuals who would be eligible for expungement,” Cunningham said in August. “If expungement is a good step toward responsible citizenship, then we should be broadening the opportunity for people to expunge their records and to rejoin the workforce.”
In July, the governor approved a measure dramatically expanding the state’s medical marijuana program. Murphy and other legislative leaders tried and failed this spring to get lawmakers’ approval of a bill legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana. They have agreed to give the effort one more go this year, before pushing it to a ballot question before voters in the 2020 presidential election.