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Momentum to Expunge Marijuana Convictions in Legalization States Accelerates

May 22, 2018
Momentum to Expunge Marijuana Convictions in Legalization States Accelerates

As the momentum  for cannabis legalization spreads  through US States, the initiative to allow people convicted of possessing a small amount of cannabis to clear their records is also gaining momnetum.

Various variations of the initiative are being followed by different states, some are thinking about giving a chance to these offenders to wipe out their records forever  under the state laws, others are thinking of reducing these low-level felony cannabis-related convictions to misdemeanors, still some other are thinking of sealing all such cannabis possession related convictions from public view by using the court orders issued from some courts under the state's non-disclosure law. In the year 2016 alone, almost 574,000 US citizens were convicted of simple possession of cannabis, the sources from the Drug Policy Alliance report.

In an interview to the Washington Post, Kate Bell, a proponent of the move said, "it is totally unfair to burden these people with such lifelong criminal records".

2018 is considered an important year since more than 12 more US states are considering to legalize cannabis in one form or another in this year. There is also a possibility that more states will join the race as the quest for cannabis legalization takes place. Considering the fact that more than 60% of the US citizens now back the idea of full legalization of cannabis for adult use, the support for cannabis law reforms is also expected to increase in the coming year, so it is about time to convince the US lawmakers to come up with appropriate laws and to consider legalizing it in all the 50 US states.

For people having past cannabis-related convictions, becoming a productive member of the society is sometimes very difficult as they end up facing a lot of harsh realities. Such convictions not only diminish a person's access to quality education and employment, but they also result in military denial and access to fair housing. More than 4,900 people in California have recently filed petitions in various courts asking for expungement of their criminal records of all prior cannabis-related convictions.

In Washington State where cannabis was legalized in 2012, there are many convicted citizens who are still carrying the burden of past cannabis-related convictions.In order to address this injustice, Jenny Durkan who is the Mayor of Seattle announced that the city will toss all such cannabis-related low-level misdemeanor cases soon. While speaking in a news conference, Durkan said, "For people who needed treatment, help, and opportunity, our war on drugs ended up being a war on them." Similar comments came from George Gascon, District Attorney, San Francisco, who said his office is thinking about dismissing and sealing more than 3,000 misdemeanor cannabis-related convictions dating back to 1975.

According to Jenny Roberts, Law Professor at the American University, "the move to expunge all low-level past cannabis-related convictions makes a perfect sense considering the fact that cannabis is now legalized and possessing it is not considered a crime anymore. There is no better way to treat convictions for a victimless crime when that behavior is not considered a crime anymore." Jenny asked, "If in the legislature it is not regarded as a crime, why should people keep on feeling its ramifications going forward?"

Many US states that have legalized cannabis are now moving in the same direction.

According to William McCurdy, a Democrat Assemblyman from Nevada, "since it has now got a legal status in Nevada, it is imperative that we give such convicts a chance to have their records sealed up." Now that cannabis is legal in Oregon, the state law has allowed people convicted of growing up to 6 cannabis plants or possessing up to an ounce of cannabis to have their records sealed. However, some lawmakers in Colorado are against the proposal. In 2014 a bill was moved in front of the legislature that would allow such convicts to file a petition in the court for concealment of previous low-level cannabis related convictions, but after facing stiff opposition from the prosecutors, the bill died. The District Attorneys Council was of the view that such legislation would also allow low-level drug dealers to wipe their past criminal records clean. According to Thomas Raynes, Council executive director, "a number of drug distribution cases were pleaded down to low-level felonies."


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