Cannabis charges cleared at community expungement clinic

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Community expungement clinic at Ben's Berber Shop. - Staff Writer/ Paige Britt

On Feb. 25 the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) hosted a community expungement event at Ben’s Barber Shop in Glassboro, NJ where people with cannabis charges could meet with lawyers to potentially clear their record. The SSDP partnered with the group Blaze Responsibly, Wana Brands Foundation, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which is also an official cannabis union, and Ben’s Barber Shop to help people with cannabis charges get back into the workforce. While waiting to meet with one of the lawyers of Blaze Responsibly, the barbers at Ben’s Barber Shop gave guests a haircut and took professional headshots of them to use on their resumes. The UFCW was there to help them with job placement. 

The Students for Sensible Drug Policy is a national organization with a local chapter at Rowan. Their mission states, “Rowan University’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is a student-run organization committed to creating a safe and informed campus community through comprehensive drug education, harm reduction initiatives, and justice-focused programs. We inspire positive change, foster empathy, and contribute to the overall health and success of the Rowan University community,” via their Instagram page. 

Since its creation in October of 2023, the SSDP has hosted cannabis webinars and cannabis lab tours to get students involved with and inform them about the cannabis industry. SSDP President Ryan Ems, a senior exercise science major, connected with Blaze Responsibly and Wana Brands Foundation to make this event happen, both of which have hosted expungement clinics before. Ems explained that when cannabis was decriminalized in New Jersey in 2021, many people’s records were automatically expunged. However, if those charges were paired with any other charges, such as a noise complaint or ticket, their records were not expunged. 

“So people have a record, they have trouble getting houses, getting loans, going to school. So our goal today was that people come in and get their record expunged or start the process, they can have an opportunity to get a haircut, [an] opportunity to talk with the local UFCW. So they’re here to help with job placement in the industry. And we’re also doing profile headshots as well. We’re trying to get people to just come in for one-stop shop for [a] fresh opportunity,” Ems said. 

Blaze Responsibly was founded by Chirali Patel in 2021. As an attorney, Patel was a part of the legalization ballot initiative in 2020 to decriminalize cannabis. 

“I just saw how the companies that were monopolizing the street, were not necessarily giving back to the community in ways that they needed help with. And so for me, it’s record pairing because if your record is clear, you can get better opportunities and better access, and that’s the bare minimum that folks need where I think a lot of times, post-legalization, everybody was focused on getting a license and a cannabis business, but you need money to get cannabis licenses and folks in communities that have been hit hard by the war on drugs might not have those resources to even start,” Patel said. 

After witnessing the difficulty people were having to get a fresh start, Patel started Blaze Responsibly to help people clear their records. At the clinic, lawyers were able to file a petition for expungement in about 15 minutes, as everything is completely accessible and free online through the court database. 

“It’s for free, you don’t have to do anything, and then we walk you through the whole process and then you’re basically waiting for an email one day that says congrats, your order has been granted by the judge,” Patel said. 

As for the owner of Ben’s Barber Shop, Kristen Dutch, it was an easy decision whether or not to get involved in this event. She and her husband are working towards launching their own cannabis business, and are passionate about helping the citizens of Glassboro. 

“I’m a medical patient myself. I have Crohn’s disease and cannabis has been a huge help with that. So it’s nice to be able to help your community. Now, we have connections with Ryan and his other cannabis connections. We’re already in Glassboro, let’s help the community and team up with local cannabis entities,” Dutch said. 

One of the main goals of Rowan’s chapter of SSDP is to create a more informed campus and not just about cannabis. SSDP also does a lot of work with harm reduction initiatives and works closely with the Wellness Center to do Narcan training with some of the athletic teams. Ems would also like to work on getting Narcan in residence buildings so it is available to students if there were to be an overdose. 

Ems also has a Certificate of Undergraduate Study (CUGS)  in Cannabis Entrepreneurship and wants to integrate his education into SSDP for other students. 

“The education in that program is really, really amazing. So I encourage everybody to try to take some of those classes. I want to keep adding more classes. That’s the goal,” Ems said.

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