On Monday, February 22, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy signed three bills into law legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey. The laws decriminalize use and possession of limited amounts of marijuana for people twenty-one years of age and older.
On February 22, 2021, Attorney General Gubir S. Grewal published a directive governing dismissals of pending marijuana charges for any marijuana offense that is no longer illegal under state law. AG Grewal also published interim guidance to law enforcement officers regarding decriminalization of marijuana, including a section answering frequently asked questions.
While many are predicting that it will be at least a year before you will be able to legally purchase recreational marijuana, these bills have already made big changes. Use of limited quantities of marijuana is now legal. Additionally, possession of limited amounts of marijuana on your person or in your vehicle is legal. Distribution of limited quantities of “regulated cannabis” is also decriminalized, however, distribution of non-regulated marijuana or hashish remains criminalized under the new state laws. Another impactful change is what constitutes a “reasonable articulable suspicion” to initiate a stop or search. The Interim Guidance on Marijuana Decriminalization states, “the odor of marijuana or hashish, either burnt or raw, by itself no longer establishes ‘reasonable articulable suspicion’ to initiate a stop or search of a person or their vehicle to determine a violation of a possession offense or a fourth-degree distribution offense.”
What does all of this mean for residents those with prior criminal history for marijuana related offenses? If your offense is now legal under the new state laws, The Attorney General’s Office is directing the Courts as follows:
“For those cases already resolved, pursuant to the new decriminalization laws, the Administrative Office of the Courts will vacate by operation of law any guilty verdict, plea, placement in a diversionary program, or other entry of guilt on a matter where the conduct occurred prior to February 22, 2021. Also vacated will be any conviction, remaining sentence, ongoing supervision, or unpaid court-ordered financial assessment of any person who is or will be serving a sentence of incarceration, probation, parole or other form of community supervision as of February 22, 2021 as a result of the person’s conviction or adjudication of delinquency solely for the above listed charges.”
However, as of today, the Attorney General’s office has not announced any further directives as to the expungement process of marijuana related offenses that are not decriminalized. It is unclear whether there will be a new expungement process, an expedited process, etc.
If you have a marijuana-related offence on your criminal record that is not legal under the new state laws, you may be able to have that criminal history expunged. Expungement is the legal process by which your criminal history is sealed, with few exceptions. Expungement of your criminal record is beneficial for job applications, federal funding such as student loans and grants, housing applications, or any other situation where someone will be conducting a background check.
Do you have a marijuana-related offence on your record? Contact the Hunnell Law Group today to determine whether you are eligible for an expungement.
By: Caitlin Holland, Esq