With a legal market for recreational marijuana poised to launch in the Garden State, multiple groups are calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to go even further with loosening restrictions related to cannabis.

"At a time where we can be reinvesting in communities, fighting a global pandemic, we're spending millions of dollars in the state of New Jersey to incarcerate people on offenses for something that is now legal," Sarah Gersten, executive director and general counsel at Last Prisoner Project, told New Jersey 101.5.

LPP is the main group behind a letter sent Monday to Murphy, urging him to utilize his executive clemency power to release anyone still incarcerated for cannabis-only convictions in New Jersey.

"We have clients who are still incarcerated for years, even decades, in the state for a distribution or possession charge that is over a certain amount," Gersten said. "Regulated dispensaries are going to be able to sell 10 times that in a day, legally."

The groups pointed to the case of Humberto Ramirez, who was sentenced to 7 years in prison for transporting 6 pounds of marijuana, just days after New Jersey residents voted to legalize adult-use cannabis.

Gersten said advocates can't determine the exact number of people this clemency could affect, because offenses aren't coded as marijuana-specific, but there are hundreds of people serving sentences in New Jersey prisons for controlled substances offenses.

Beyond the creation of a legal market, New Jersey has taken steps to decriminalize cannabis from multiple angles — since July, hundreds of thousands of marijuana and hashish cases have been expunged from court records.

And re-sentencing has been permitted for low-level possession charges, the groups noted.

New Jersey legalized cannabis for medicinal use in 2010. Voters approved a recreational market in 2020.

The letter sent to Murphy also calls for freedom for those who remain on supervised release related to a marijuana offense.

The groups said the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to safely reduce prison populations.

The letter was submitted by:

  • Cannabis Voter Project
  • Coalition for Medical Marijuana NJ
  • Doctors for Cannabis Regulation
  • Last Prisoner Project
  • Latino Action Network
  • New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association
  • New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition
  • NJ Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
  • New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform
  • Redman
  • Salvation and Social Justice
  • Students for Sensible Drug Policy
  • Weedmaps

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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