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In the interview, Rice describes the decriminalization proposal – for which he is a co-sponsor – as “not an earth-shattering pivot that would turn our state on its ear or hurl us into a chaotic upheaval.”
“This is a simple, common sense, compassionate law that protects many residents,” Rice said in the report. “It levels the playing field so that Blacks, people of color, and those unable to afford the same legal representation as affluent offenders do not find themselves arrested, incarcerated and rendered unable to obtain work, housing or even student loans.”
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the protests that have swept across our nation, New Jersey has an opportunity to lead the way in bringing transformational change to a criminal justice system that has largely failed Black and brown communities.
The new bill, S2535, introduced to the state Senate Thursday afternoon, would decriminalize possession and distribution of less than one pound of weed, but would not make marijuana legal. Violators would receive a written warning for a first offense and a face fines of $25 for second and subsequent offenses.
“We have been over-penalizing marijuana offenses for far too long. We all know it is not nearly as dangerous as heroin or cocaine and it has no place being classified with them in statute,” Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, a bill sponsor, said in a statement.
In response, Cunningham said in a statement that she was “disappointed” in the decision, and that the “proposed changes would significantly lessen the number of individuals who would be eligible for expungement.”
“If expungement is a good step toward responsible citizenship, then we should be broadening the opportunity for people to expunge their records and to rejoin the work force. There has to come a time when we understand the importance of permitting people to have a second chance.”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has vetoed legislation that would have expedited expungements for people with certain cannabis-related offenses on their record. On Friday, Murphy announced that he had shot down the plan because it did not go far enough, and offered suggestions to lawmakers on how they could craft expungement legislation that was more likely to get past his desk.
Legislation that would revise procedures and eligibility for the expungement of criminal records, particularly those involving minor marijuana offenses, cleared both the New Jersey Assembly and Senate.
The bill now heads to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for his signature.
As Trenton begins to debate a marijuana bill approved on Monday by a joint legislative committee, creating an efficient process for tossing out past convictions has become central to gaining support from lawmakers who represent predominantly African-American communities.