NEWARK, NJ - Mayor Ras Baraka vowed to push for expungement after the state legislature canceled a vote yesterday on bills that would have legalized weed and allowed expungement for certain marijuana convictions.
“Today, will mark another day that countless individuals are still in prison for non-violent cannabis offenses,” Baraka said in a statement yesterday. “It also marks one more day that over 200,000 people will be denied access to jobs, housing, the right to vote, obtain student loans, the right to bear arms, the ability to drive, and a long list of invariable freedoms that have crippled their full potential.”
The vote from state lawmakers was canceled on Monday since it was unlikely to pass in the Senate.
Baraka has supported state Sens. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Stephen Sweeney’s (D- Gloucester) bill to legalize marijuana for adults aged 21 or older, but only if the expungement process for past marijuana convictions becomes less tedious.
A separate expungement bill, sponsored by Jamel Holley (D-Union) in the state Assembly, was slated for a vote yesterday too, but was canceled along with the recreational bill.
The mayor has plugged for an automatic expungement process for all non-violent cannabis offenses. Under the expungement bill, a person who has a conviction that involves possessing, selling or distributing less than one ounce of marijuana be able to petition for expungement. However, the process would not be automatic.
“I applaud the efforts of our State leadership in working together to seek provisions in a bill that seeks social justice,” Baraka’s statement continued. “However, more work must be done for us to get there.”
Newark City Council, which consists of Baraka-backed members, is currently debating to allow even medical marijuana dispensaries in Newark. A vote to do so last week failed for the second time and council people also raised concerns about recreational marijuana.
The failed vote from Newark council members for medical dispensaries is a reversal from a supportive resolution that passed in August for the facilities. Council member’s concerns about recreational marijuana are also divorced from the mayor’s position.
Not every lawmaker from Newark is sold on recreational marijuana, even as a social justice issue. State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Newark), a former Newark councilman and police officer, has been a leading opponent of recreational legalization. He has, however, sponsored a bill for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.
The expungement and recreational marijuana bills will most likely go up for a vote again at the end of the year.