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Marijuana may now be legal in New Jersey, but thousands have to wait longer for pot charges to be dropped

Adults 21 and older will be able to legally purchase cannabis products on April 21 without a medical card. But there are still thousands of people awaiting expungements of marijuana convictions.

Marijuana legalization usually goes hand in hand with decriminalization. However, due to the volume of cases, many are forced to wait perhaps years for a fresh start. There are more than 350,000 cases eligible for expungement in New Jersey.

“For 33 years I’ve been in this quagmire, I’ve been in this situation, hoping that one day I can erase it,” says Shondell White, a licensed social worker.

White was charged and convicted of possession with intent to distribute in 1989.

“I was in a car with someone who had marijuana in their possession,” White says. “I didn’t know the extent of the amount of marijuana he had, I thought it was just a blunt.”

White waited over 30 years to see marijuana laws change. But he now has to wait even longer for his own case to be resolved.

News 12 New Jersey first heard of White when he called “Ask Gov. Murphy” where he explained his situation. Since his call, White says he’s been bounced around from person to person. He says he just got carried away.

“I was given various information about why it was suspended, but no one gave me any real answers about why my case was suspended for 10 months,” White says.

The marijuana decriminalization bill came into effect last year, and it declared certain cannabis-related offenses eligible for expungements. News 12 has been told there have been delays due to COVID-19 and getting the system in place. But even before the pandemic, the process took weeks.

“These expungement requests go to the state police and the state police have an expungement unit. They are responsible for reviewing expungement petitions and court orders to make sure there is no There is no conflict with the law,” explains Chirali Patel, of the law firm Blaze.

The process took about 20 weeks before the pandemic. It now takes 30 to 40 weeks at the state police level.

White says he won’t be deterred.

“I won’t stop until I get justice because I think I deserve it at this point in my life,” he says.

White says he had a warrant attorney and even then his case is on hold.

There are free resources available to New Jerseyans for this process. There are also radiation clinics popping up all over the state.

Patel says clinics are a good way to go, but it’s not guaranteed to speed up the process