New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for some people with marijuana-related convictions to clear their record. On Friday, August 23, Murphy announced that he rejected the plan, saying that the process was still too complicated. However, he offered suggestions on the type of expungement legislation he was more likely to sign.
Specifically, he asked lawmakers to look at Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Law, which automatically makes criminal cases more than 10 years old invisible to anyone except law enforcement and judicial officials.
“I applaud the sponsors’ commitment to social justice, and their efforts to correct historic wrongs inflicted on our communities by a criminal justice system that has at times unfairly, and harshly punished individuals,” Murphy said. “I believe, however, that this bill could go further in order to more fully and effectively achieve its intended goals.”
While Murphey’s suggestions include making the process of expunging marijuana convictions automatic, it also caps the number of offenses an expungement-eligible individual can have on their record. Thus, many New Jersey residents would still be stuck with marijuana-related offenses on their records, even if the state eventually decides to legalize or decriminalize the drug.
Some experts say New Jersey has “the most burdensome” process for clearing criminal records. According to data from the NJ judiciary, more than one million people have been arrested for marijuana-related charges since 1990, the most of any U.S. state.
Currently, individuals in NJ must wait either 5 or 6 years after they have completed any sentencing and repaid any fines before filing for an expungement of a marijuana conviction or other eligible offense. Even then, a person must file extensive paperwork and potentially appear before a judge, who may or may not agree to clear the record. In addition, New Jersey does not allow individuals with more than four convictions to clear their record (and only one can be a felony offense).