New Jersey mayors want all convictions expunged if pot legalized

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- There is a new push to strengthen social justice and equity measures in bills legalizing marijuana in New Jersey.

The mayors of Newark and Jersey City say they want state lawmakers to include the full expungement of convictions for possession or distribution of any amount of pot.

Mayors Ras Baraka and Steven Fulop have also called for the release of anyone currently in jail for marijuana-related offenses.

"We are calling upon the New Jersey legislature to address the vital social justice and equity issues involved in legalizing adult use of cannabis," Baraka said. "It is not enough that we simple legalize adult use of cannabis. We must heal the wounds in our communities and our residents that have been caused by the misguided War on Drugs. We must make our municipalities full partners in the revenue that will be gained from cannabis sales, so that we can in turn gain additional resources to invest in workforce development and training opportunities for youth and young adults, mental health and trauma care and the preservation of affordable housing."

The mayors released a letter (see below) that they are sending to state legislators, which calls for enabling persons convicted of such offenses to be eligible for licenses to sell cannabis, creating "Impact Zones" to train residents in the financing and operations of cannabis businesses, and to provide for local equity in owning cannabis businesses.

The mayors also seek to give municipalities the authority to prohibit or decide how many cannabis licenses are appropriate for their communities, to gain a share of tax revenues generated by the sales, and also use those revenues make investments in workforce development and training opportunities for youth, young adults, mental health and trauma care and preservation of affordable housing.

The two mayors were also joined by Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, and other cities that have voiced support for the letter include Maplewood, Bloomfield, Linden and Trenton.

Full text of mayors' letter:

Dear Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin:

As the New Jersey Legislature seemingly hurtles toward the legalization of cannabis for adult use, there remain serious issues of social justice and equity; municipal self-determination and finances that are not adequately addressed in the pending legislation. Assemblyman Jamel Holley's proposed legislation makes major strides in dealing with social justice concerns and provides a solid framework for dealing with the remaining issues. While we support legalization, we can only support legislation that goes even farther to remedy the damages to communities that were targeted because of the failed war on drugs or criminalization of communities of color and other minority communities because of cannabis prohibition. I urge you to join us in seeking passage of stronger legislation.

Here's why:

Social Justice/Equity Issues:

1. Expungement. Persons convicted of possession or distribution of any quantity of cannabis should be eligible to have their records expunged without limit. It is illogical and unfair to continue to penalize people for the same behavior that we are now authorizing as a legal business. Cannabis offenses should be classified as civil violations and specifically not characterized as offenses.

2. Release from Jail. By the same principle, anyone presently jailed for possession or distribution of any quantity should be immediately released from imprisonment.

3. Licensing Requirements. Those convicted of possession or distribution of any quantity of cannabis should be eligible for a license. With the end of prohibition, bootleggers were allowed to become producers and distributors of alcoholic beverages. Just as America once recognized that prohibition of alcoholic beverages was a mistake, we must now recognize that prohibition of cannabis is a mistake and not continue to punish the victims of that mistake.

4. Impact Zones. Social Impact Zones to compensate the people whose areas have been damaged by the marijuana prohibition is a necessary idea. But the concept needs teeth lacking in proposed legislation. All licenses in those zones should be reserved for residents of those zones, and programs should be mandated and funded in those zones to train residents in the financing and operation of a cannabis business. In Newark, we are already developing a program to help local residents interested in becoming involved in the cannabis industry.

5. Local Equity in Ownership Requirement 50 percent of ownership equity should be awarded and held by affected persons or firms, partnerships, joint ventures, trust, receiver syndicates, marginalized due to the disproportionate impacts of the war on drugs in overpoliced communities.

Racial disparities in cannabis law enforcement are intolerable, yet those disparities have persisted for generations. In New Jersey people of color are arrested for cannabis at a rate three times higher than whites. Cannabis prohibition has done serious damage to communities of color - taking parents away from their children, creating criminal records, preventing people from getting jobs and supporting their families. Half-way measures to correct a major social and racial inequity are not acceptable.

Municipal Self-Determination

1. Municipalities should have the authority to prohibit license and/or decide how many licenses are appropriate for their municipality additionally, determine where dispensaries, growing and processing facilities should be located. Local governing bodies are best equipped to reflect the will of their constituents.


1. Five percent of the state tax revenues generated within a municipality by legalization should go directly to that municipality for programs related to cannabis enforcement, regulation, education and aiding the establishment of local cannabis businesses.

2. The estimated $305 million in tax revenue also should make its way back to participating cities in part unrestricted to further investments in workforce development and training opportunities for youth and young adults, mental health and trauma care and the preservation of affordable housing.

3. In accordance with the approved expungement process, a state fund should be created for the New Jersey State Police to help purge records, thereby creating a more meaningful expungement process as intended by forthcoming legislation.

We ask you to not rush passage of cannabis legislation, but rather to take the time necessary to produce a law that will adequately deal with issues of social justice and home rule.

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