When New Jersey lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy approved the plan to make recreational marijuana legal, part of the agreement included a provision to wipe the slate clean for Garden State residents who had been convicted of possessing small amounts of pot.

It turns out the process is a bit more complicated than many initially believed.

Before cannabis was legalized earlier this year in the Garden State, if you were busted for possessing a small amount of marijuana, less than 50 grams, the charge was recorded electronically in the court system, and a record of the conviction also went into the State Police computerized criminal repository system.

While the New Jersey court system has already approved more than 360,000 marijuana possession expungements, the process must be completed and finalized by the State Police in order for an individual’s criminal record to be wiped clean.

To deal with a total of 450,000 potential cases the NJSP expungement unit has been increased from 11 to 41 staff members, but an estimated 200,000 individual cases remain sealed and under review.

Law and Marijuana

A bit of a backlog

Akil Roper, the senior vice president and assistant general counsel at Legal Services of New Jersey, said “we have seen some clients who have not gotten their records expunged, there are a number of factors that can play into that.”

“A number of individuals who have minor marijuana related convictions or offenses, they may have other convictions, other matters on their records which may preclude them from getting that automated expungement, many of them have records that are a bit more complicated than that.”

Roper said it would seem that the system has become clogged because so many individuals are seeking expungement, but that is only speculation on his part.

He said it is important to try and keep things moving because a conviction for possessing a small amount of marijuana may not seem like a big deal but it truly is.

Get the conviction off your record

“Getting that expunged and getting it off of your record is crucially important, having something on your record can create numerous barriers for individuals who are seeking employment, higher education," Roper said.

He pointed out if people are trying to get any kind of professional license, “those folks are particularly harmed by convictions and arrests stay on that record.”

He said if individuals want to find out what the status of their expungement is, “there is a process where folks can go and get verification to see whether that expungement has taken place, they can go to the court.”

In situations where individuals do have their automatic expungement cases bogged down he noted they can file an expedited application to move the process along.

He said if you need help with getting a marijuana possession expungement you can get more information on their website or by calling 1-888-LSNJ-LAW

The New Jersey State Police expungement unit expects to clear the backlog of cases by the end of this year.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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