Past marijuana convictions should not stand once legalized
As pointed out in this NJ Advance Media article, many changes to State Sen. Nicholas Scutari's bill legalizing marijuana could be seen in the coming weeks. With the election of Phil Murphy who has vowed to sign such legislation many in the legislature have taken a slower approach. Along with that certain tweaking is expected.
Among the possible changes are whether to allow home grow, something the current bill prohibits but all other states with legalized recreational marijuana allow. Other issues include where the bulk of the tax windfall would go, how much marijuana individual businesses would be allowed to grow, would there be any allowance for public consumption, etc.
The most intriguing issue though is what to do about all the folks who are either still in jail on day one of legalized marijuana or who are weighed down by criminal records for possession. Is it fair for someone to remain in jail and finish out a term over violating a law that no longer would exist? Is it right that those with such criminal records would have to hire attorneys and spend lots of money and time applying for individual expungements, not knowing if they'll even be granted?
A better way is being talked about; including a mass expungement within the legislation itself. It's the right thing to do. Think about a person spending 12 months in jail for possession when on day 25 of their incarceration the law that sent them there no longer is valid. Is that justice? Yes, you can argue that it was illegal at the time they did it. But these laws against marijuana are so antiquated and have been such a long time in abolishing that it is morally wrong to keep someone in a cage or saddled with a criminal conviction for the same thing many others will now be doing freely.
Those jailed during Prohibition remained in prison even after its repeal. The fact that they did not offer mass pardons and expungements at the end of Prohibition in 1933 does not make it the right choice. A better choice was made by President Jefferson in pardoning all previously convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts as soon as they were repealed. So it can be done, and should be here. When a war is over, prisoners of war should be released. When this part of the ill-conceived war on drugs is over, let's do the same.
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