On an icy Saturday morning, some 50 people gathered in an upstairs event room at East Orange Public Library. Some kept to themselves and picked up free coffee and iced donuts, while others wondered aloud how the next few months would unfold for them.
Today, they weren’t checking out books. They were receiving free legal assistance to expunge marijuana possession and other charges from their records.
Some may question why New Jerseyans still need help with expungements, since more than 362,000 low-level marijuana and hashish cases were automatically expunged, or cleared from records, after the state’s decriminalization laws took effect July 1. However, the process left out residents with other charges on their records, like child endangerment. Those residents could need lawyers to help file petitions and provide the legal pushback if courts were hesitant to clear their client’s names. But hiring a lawyer isn’t something that everyone can afford.
East Orange resident and Roll Up Life CEO Tiyahnn Bryant decided to take matters into his own hands by creating Saturday’s “Community Expungement Series” at the library. Bryant approached East Orange Mayor Ted Green in October to help host the program, since Green has been helping residents through the expungement process for 15 years. Eventually, two New Jersey-based cannabis companies, Apothecarium Dispensary and Green Thumb Dispensaries, would sign on to Bryant’s event to sponsor legal aid for New Jerseyans with trickier records.
“For far too long, our cities have been affected with the War on Drugs,” Bryant said in front of the crowd of participants.