Widowed and left to raise her two children alone, Jo Anne Zito needed a decent second job to help make ends meet. But twice in 2016 she missed out on gigs after potential employers learned she’d been busted for pot years earlier.
"Once you're in that criminalized zone, it's pretty hard to get out," Zito told Cheddar.
It was a single marijuana plant in 2012 that ultimately made life most difficult for Zito, who had two felony convictions stemming from that arrest. She eventually found a second job working in a warehouse in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, for $9 an hour, but like many New Jerseyans with a criminal record for pot, she struggles even as state officials negotiate an end to marijuana prohibition.
“My first arrest was when I was 19, so I kind of derailed my future,” Zito said. "It's horrible what you live through, I mean my life is surreal now."
Marijuana has long been considered a serious offense in Zito's home state of New Jersey. But attitudes are changing. Medical use has been legal since 2010. And lawmakers are still expected to allow recreational use even after support for a bill legalizing cannabis evaporated in March — in part over disagreements about what to do with the roughly 1 million residents like Zito convicted of marijuana crimes since 1992.