NJ cities won’t support legal marijuana without criminal expungements, release of convicts from jail

NEWARK NJ - Mayors of several major New Jersey cities have sent a letter to state legislators warning that they will not support a legal recreational marijuana market within their communities unless changes are made to the proposed law.

New Jersey's assembly and senate may vote to legalize marijuana later this month. Several mayors wants a guarantee that there will be criminal expungements for all those arrested for any amount of marijuana possession or distribution.

"Without Jersey City and Newark, I think it's fair to say that the state of New Jersey would have a challenge meeting their projections from a revenue standpoint," said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

Fulop, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla stood together in Newark to call on Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin for change in the bill. They also said that anyone in jail for a marijuana offense should be released once the drug is legalized.

"In some states they legalized cannabis and for 10 years, folks have not had expungement," said Baraka. "So while people were making money off of cannabis, there were people in jail for 10 years while people are making millions of dollars. If that's not the height of hypocrisy, I don't know what else is."

The Mayors' letter to lawmakers also states that those convicted of marijuana crimes should have the opportunity to open legal marijuana businesses.

"With the end of prohibition, bootleggers were allowed to become producers and distributors of alcoholic beverages," reads the letter.

Finally, these local leaders want to see more tax dollars made off of legal recreational marijuana returned to the communities where the cannabis is sold. Currently, it's been proposed that 1 percent of marijuana tax revenue would be routed back to the host municipality. These mayors want at least 5 percent of that pie.

"That money should go to repair, frankly, all the damage that was done to our communities around the failed war on drugs that caused the cyclical pathway to prison," said Baraka.

Newark also wants to establish 'impact zones' where residents whose lives and neighborhoods have been ravaged by drugs will be given a leg up, in which to enter the legal cannabis industry. Local leaders have also proposed using cannabis tax revenue for education, job training and 'second chance' programs for people coming home from incarceration.

Finally, municipalities want local control over how many cannabis business licenses to award and where such businesses can open up shop.