Marijuana may now be legal in New Jersey, but thousands must wait longer to have pot charges expunged
Adults 21 and over will be able to legally purchase cannabis products on April 21 without a medical card. But there are still thousands of people who are awaiting expungements on marijuana convictions.
The legalization of marijuana usually goes hand in hand with decriminalization. However, because of the volume of cases, many are being forced to possibly wait years for a fresh start. There are over 350,000 cases eligible for expungement in New Jersey.
“For 33 years, I've been in this quagmire, I've been in this situation, hoping one day I can get it expunged,” says Shondell White, a licensed social worker.
White was charged and convicted of possession with intent to distribute back in 1989.
“I was in a car with someone who had marijuana in their possession,” White says. “I didn't know the magnitude of how much marijuana he had, I thought it was just a blunt.”
White has waited more than 30 years to see marijuana laws change. But he now must wait even longer for his own case to be cleared.
News 12 New Jersey first heard from White when he called in to “Ask Gov. Murphy” where he explained his situation. Since his call, White says he has been bounced around from one person to the next. He says he has only gotten the runaround.
“I was given various information on why it sat, but nobody gave me true answers why my case sat for 10 months,” White says.
The marijuana decriminalization bill went into effect last year, and it said certain cannabis-related offenses were eligible for expungements. News 12 was told that there were delays because of COVID-19 and getting the system in place. But even before the pandemic, the process took weeks.
“These petitions for expungements go to the state police and the state police have an expungement unit. They're responsible for reviewing the expungement petitions and the court orders to make sure that there are no conflicts with the law,” says Chirali Patel, of Blaze Law Firm.
The process took about 20 weeks before the pandemic. It now takes 30-40 weeks at the state police level.
White says that he won’t be deterred.
“I will not stop until I get justice because I think I deserve it at this point in my life,” he says.
White says he had an attorney on retainer, and that even then, his case is being held up.
There are free resources available to New Jerseyans for this process. There are also expungement clinics popping up throughout the state.
Patel says the clinics are a good route to take but it's not guaranteed to speed up the process