With marijuana legalization unable to get enough votes to pass, the Senate will move forward with separate legislation to expand the state’s medical marijuana program and legislation to expunge certain criminal records related to marijuana possession.
Legislative leaders had previously vowed to move all three bills together—legalization, medical expansion and expungement. At a State House press conference today, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said that plan has changed.
“Adult use marijuana will be legalized in New Jersey but it won’t happen now,” Sweeney said. “It would have been best to move the adult use and medical expansion bills at the same time, but it is wrong to hold the medical and expungements bills hostage. We want to move forward to help transform the state’s medical marijuana program and to achieve the progressive reforms for social justice.”
Sweeney said that he will likely seek voter approval for the legalization of recreational marijuana with a ballot referendum in 2020.
The medical marijuana bill, S-10 (Vitale, Scutari), would allow medical use for a more extensive list of diagnosed conditions, increase the number of dispensaries, expand the list of professionals who can authorize patient use, increase access to caregivers and the amount of cannabis that patients could obtain. The legislation will also phase-out the tax on medical cannabis.
“This will transform the way New Jersey manages medical marijuana in the state. This bill will help those in need by removing barriers to access for patients, it gives doctors and other caregivers the ability to make use of the medicinal qualities of cannabis and it lowers the costs of these important products,” Sweeney said. “The best way to make the medical cannabis program fully effective is through legislation.”
The bill includes the regulatory oversight contained in the adult use legalization legislation, providing the structure and organization to enhance the effectiveness of the medical program.
The bill allows any physician, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses and other health care providers, to prescribe cannabis for a wider range of conditions. It would also expand access to designated caregivers, including those in hospitals or nursing homes, substantially increase the amount patients could obtain, allow terminally ill patients unlimited amounts and provide new legal protections for participants.
The expungement bill, S-3205, (Cunningham, Ruiz), would reform the process for the expungement of criminal records. The bill would expand the categories of people eligible for expungement, and the expungement request could proceed once the individual had met certain time period requirements.
The legislation would establish a “clean slate” expungement which would allow someone ineligible under the new provisions to apply for expungement. The individual would be eligible 10 years from the date they were released, completed probation or completed parole, whichever came last.
The measure would allow for the expungement of controlled dangerous substance convictions of the third or fourth degree. This would allow all convictions for controlled dangerous substance crimes to be treated the same as other crimes and offenses in terms of eligibility for expungement.