Expungement debate threatens to hold up marijuana legalization

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Ask most supporters of marijuana legalization and they’ll tell you that, yes, it’s a new industry that will generate millions of dollars in sales taxes for the state. But, more importantly, according to Gov. Phil Murphy, “First and foremost this is a social justice issue.”

And that means expungement — or setting aside criminal convictions — in this case, for possession of an ounce or less of weed. It sounds good for someone whose life has been turned upside down for getting busted with a small amount of marijuana, but if you were a small-time dealer — whether you sold a dime bag, an eighth or an ounce — expungement does not extend to you. That has several big city mayors and lawmakers balking at backing a legalization bill until there’s some consideration for small-time dealers, who, come some time in the next two years, will still be paying the price for selling a substance that is no longer illegal.

Assemblywoman Angela McKnight represents the southern part of Jersey City, where much of the street dealing occurs.

“I want to make sure that this bill will be fair for all, not just a subset of people,” she said. “We want to make sure that the guy who was selling — and nine time out of 10 he was selling because he was trying to make ends meet, maybe he’s trying to help put food on the table for his kids or help his mom pay rent — now he will still be in jail.” [Read [email protected]]