Last summer, before we knew Phil Murphy would become our next governor but had strong inclinations he would come out on top, it was fair to assume by this time we'd have legalized recreational marijuana in the state of New Jersey. Just in time for Memorial Day weekend and the summer of '18.

It wouldn't be a stretch to think that when you consider how often he spoke about legalizing marijuana on the campaign trail. Yet here we are, summer of '18 around the corner, and we still can't go down the street and pick up an eighth of weed and a bag of edibles. Politicians taking time to get their ducks in a row (or simply dragging their feet through the mud) is nothing new. So if we are going to take our time with this and make sure we make this drastic change in the best interest of New Jersey, then one very important thing has to be done: Sweeping pardons for past marijuana convictions in New Jersey.

The argument against that of course, is just because a substance like marijuana would be considered legal in the eyes of the law, it doesn't mean people locked up in New Jersey prisons for dealing, smoking, or possessing marijuana before this change were adhering to the laws we had in place when these incidents took place. However if we are going to go so far as to open up marijuana dispensaries at the rate we see liquor stores, how dangerous to society were they actually?

Phil Murphy is reportedly open to the idea of pardoning past pot convicts. "If all we do is reset the table on Monday and we ignore what happened up until Friday, I think we would not have done our job," Murphy said. "So the answer is: We have to be open-minded." New Jersey reportedly ranked third in the nation in 2016 in total marijuana arrests.

Hopefully Governor Murphy and his administration tackle this on a case-by-case basis. There will no doubt be cases where the charges are too steep to simply sweep under the rug. Those who were at the top of drug-trafficking rings or dealing to children for example. But for the majority who were caught with a small amount need to have their cases thrown out and expunged from their record. Our jails are overcrowded. And it's hard enough to get a job and support a family in this state without the hurdle of a criminal conviction on your record.

I want to see marijuana legalized in New Jersey. There's a good chance you do too. But I can't support any changes to NJ's marijuana laws that don't acknowledge past pot convictions.

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— Joe Votruba

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