What happens to my old marijuana arrest? What the new marijuana law in New Jersey means.

This February governor Murphy signed A1897, which removes all criminal and civil penalties for the private possession of up to six ounces of marijuana by adults, as well as the personal possession of up to 170 grams of hashish. It also decriminalizes all transactions involving the transfer of up to one ounce of cannabis, and also reduces the criminal penalties for transactions involving larger quantities (distribution of more than one ounce, but less than five pounds) of the substance.

One of the most important provisions in the law also seeks to expedite the expungement of criminal records involving low-level marijuana crimes, otherwise known as disorderly persons offenses. Said Gov. Murphy in a statement, “Starting immediately, those who had been subject to an arrest for petty marijuana possession will be able to get relief and move forward.” While it would appear that this relief under the law would be swift, the implementation is going to be slow, at first.

The reason is not just simply the bureaucracy involved in the handling of hundreds of thousands of low level marijuana prosecutions across the state, the issue is that a large amount of the convictions have not yet been digitized for easier processing through the system. In other words, older convictions will take longer to process. According to the new law, the administrative office of the courts is responsible for implementing the system on a county and municipal wide level via the already existing electronic filing system.

The electronic filing system, which makes it easier to file an application since it does not require manual filing and multiple simultaneous notices to various legal and law enforcement agencies, is not currently prepared to start accepting applications based upon old convictions that are not in the system. Typically there is a rush on the part of citizens to be the first in line in order to take advantage of changes in the law when it comes to expunging convictions, so the influx of new applicants will also further delay what should be the state’s ‘automatic’ expungement process.

Waiting for the state to move to expunge an old marijuana arrest and conviction is not advised at this time. Due to the long delays that will be present while the system adjusts and adapts to the new laws can and will often result in clerical errors. In order to ensure that your conviction or arrest is expunged retain an attorney to verify the state has done what they are obligated to do under the law. Otherwise, it could be years before your expungement is complete.

Michael Orozco is an attorney at Price Meese who practices criminal defense. If you have questions about this article or need legal advice email or call 201 391 3737