Coalition of mayors demand broader expungement bill, or else

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

A broad coalition of New Jersey mayors from across New Jersey met to demand what they call justice for nonviolent marijuana users and dealers. It affects people like Ahmed Reed of Newark who in 2015 was caught with eight bags of marijuana. A conviction followed, and so would closed doors to job opportunities.

“My ability to support my family has been shattered,” he said.

The city leaders want to change that, insisting that statistics show enforcement has led to lopsided and high arrests and convictions for African-Americans and Latinos.

“We all deserve a justice system that’s fair and not based on the color of money or the color of your skin,” said Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, who also serves as the New Jersey League of Municipalities president.

“We’re talking about young people who are incarcerated for just possessing or selling a small portion of this substance, and we’re now going to make it legal for corporations to sell to make millions and millions of dollars — it’s fairness, it’s justice,” said Keiona Miller, a North Plainfield council member.

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill that would expunge convictions for 10 grams of marijuana or less. The mayors insist for social justice reasons that amount is way too low.

“We believe that anybody with a possession of at least 50 grams or less should be expunged right away, immediately. You cannot allow people to make millions of dollars off of marijuana in the state of New Jersey, while at the same time keep people incarcerated and keep them weighed down by these offenses. In fact, we believe that the Legislature is really focusing on those who are purchasing marijuana as opposed to low-level dealers that are here in this community. So, in and of itself, the law has deep-seated inequities embedded in it,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

The coalition of mayors issued somewhat of a veiled threat to lawmakers: make the bill more inclusive or else.

Baraka says cities might resist and block dispensaries for adult legalization if they don’t get what they want on expungement.

“The state gives us enabling legislation. The municipalities actually have to enact these things, where they are locally, and we know that the state cannot achieve the dividends that they think they’re going to achieve, the results that they think they’re going to achieve, without the participation of the municipalities,” he said.

They mayors say they hope it doesn’t come to that as they demand a seat at the table to amend the expungement bill.