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NJ mayors threaten to ban legal marijuana dispensaries if lawmakers don’t extend expungements

Posted at 6:32 PM, Jan 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-30 18:32:00-05

New Jersey mayors from urban, rural and suburban communities are threatening to block legal pot shops unless more people with marijuana convictions can get their records wiped clean.

"I have a wife and children that I need to provide for," said Ahmad Reed, a Newark resident who was caught with eight small bags of marijuana back in 2015.

He paid a $450 fine and has been unable to secure steady employment ever since.

"My ability to support my family has been shattered," said Reed.

Minor marijuana convictions can make it tough to get a job, a license, a loan or a mortgage.

"To allow people to make millions of dollars off of cannabis, while people are in jail because of it. It’s just a contradiction," said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

A bill that New Jersey lawmakers are considering would allow low-level marijuana offenders - caught with one ounce or less - to get a fresh start. But that does not extend to small-time dealers.

"The law has deep-ceded inequities embedded in it," said Baraka. "As a matter of fact, what they’re saying is that somebody from another township can come into this city and buy marijuana and have their records expunged."

Mayors from Bloomfield, Hope Township, Jersey City, Fanwood and other municipalities stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Newark Wednesday. Baraka said the state needs New Jersey's major cities to cooperate with legalization, if they are going to meet their sales projections.

Meanwhile the pressure is on for New Jersey lawmakers to act fast. Competition is growing across the river where New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he wants to sign a legal weed bill in the next several months.

On Tuesday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and top lawmakers said they are inching closer to agreeing on a final bill, after a joint Senate and Assembly committee passed a 144-page piece of legislation in November. A full vote by the Senate and Assembly is still pending.

Mr. Reed is praying for an outcome that includes him.

"Non-violent cannabis offenders, such as myself, should be given the opportunity to work and obtain a decent job," he said.