Murphy won’t have to pardon N.J. weed crimes despite Biden order. Here’s why.

Published: Oct. 11, 2022

The expungement provision in New Jersey’s law legalizing recreational cannabis means that there is no need for Gov. Phil Murphy to pardon anyone convicted of possessing marijuana, according to a spokeswoman.

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced he was pardoning anyone convicted solely on federal charges of possessing cannabis, urged governors to do the same for those convicted under state laws, and asked officials to look at removing the federal ban on the drug.

The White House estimated that more than 6,500 people with federal convictions for simple possession could benefit, plus thousands more convicted under District of Columbia law.

In New Jersey, such low-level charges were ordered to be expunged in July 2021, Murphy spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro Post said.

“Because these low-level marijuana offenses are being expunged from individuals’ records, pardons are not necessary,” she said.

Murphy applauded Biden “for taking decisive action to correct injustices stemming from the failed war on drugs,” Alfaro Post said.

But the state’s expungement process has come under fire for being too slow and not comprehensive enough. Lawyer Michael Hoffman, who has handled expungement cases, said the state was “very selective”

Hoffman said that only about half of the 1 million people convicted of possession from 1990 to 2018 had their convictions automatically erased. Many of the others had additional crimes, such as wandering (or loitering) the purpose of obtaining drugs. They need to go through an extra step to get those convictions expunged, he said.

Biden’s action drew support from New Jersey lawmakers who have dealt with cannabis legislation on the federal level.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called Biden’s move “a welcome step forward as we reconsider our nation’s drug policy and how best to expand research as well as access to care and treatment to those struggling with substance use.”

Biden’s action also drew support from Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12th Dist., and Cori Bush, D-Mo., who introduced legislation in July 2021 to remove federal criminal penalties for all drug use — including marijuana and other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

“By granting pardons to thousands of people convicted on simple federal marijuana possession charges and calling for a review of marijuana classification, President Biden is making a strong statement on the need to address long-term impacts of the war on drugs, and for that, we applaud him,” the two lawmakers said.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, called Biden’s action “a high point.”

“Not that it solves all the things that we want but it represents an amazing breakthrough,” he said. “I see this as part of a string of developments that make me more optimistic than I’ve ever been that we’re going to have a breakthrough in this Congress.”

In addition to those convicted of federal crimes, millions more could be affected at the state level, said Rep. David Joyce of Ohio, one of the Republican co-chairs of the cannabis caucus.

“The bulk of petty, non-violent cannabis convictions take place at the state and local level, so to truly remedy the unjust war on cannabis, we must start there and vacate antiquated offenses that are no longer even considered a crime,” Joyce said.

“More than 14 million cannabis-related records at the state and local level continue to preclude Americans from stable housing and gainful employment – two cornerstones of safe and prosperous communities.”

Rep, Barbara Lee, another caucus co-chair who joined Blumenauer on a conference call with reporters following Biden’s announcement, said the review on whether marijuana should remain a Schedule 1 drug like heroin likely will result in ending the federal ban altogether rather than reclassifying cannabis.

“We will be following it very closely and pushing for what it takes for descheduling,” said Lee, D-Calif. “We’re almost there. We have to push hard for descheduling.”

And Blumenauer said that “once they start down this path, it’s not going to be rescheduled, it’s going to be descheduled,”

Biden’s action could give a boost to Democratic chances this fall of retaining control of Congress in the midterm elections, Blumenauer said.

“This is a positive signal to younger voters,” he said. “This is going to be very very popular. This is going to help the president and others who are willing to link arms with him.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-10-12 03:13:17 -0700