Lawmakers on Monday sent Gov. Phil Murphy a bill setting up an expungement process for low-level cannabis offenses, even without a bill to legalize marijuana and with hesitation to move forward on another proposal to decriminalize cannabis.
The state Senate approved Senate Bill 3205 in a 24-12 vote and the Assembly approved its own version – Assembly Bill 4498 – in a 50-15 vote with six abstentions. The legislation is the only marijuana proposal that made its way to the governor’s desk.
S3205 would categorize possession of between one pound and five pounds as a third degree offense. The law would let anyone charged with possession of up to five pounds, before the law takes effect, to apply immediately for expungement, or wait 18 months if they are charged after the law takes effect.
The measure puts a three-year waiting period in place for anyone with a criminal record of possessing more than five pounds of cannabis. Anyone with cannabis offenses on their record would be protected by “virtual expungement,” meaning that any marijuana offenses could not be used as a reason to deny them financial services, educational or career opportunities.
But the expungement of up to five pounds spooked many lawmakers and was pinned as part of what ultimately killed the legalization efforts in March.