Drug War’s End: Oregon Expunging Pot Records

September 29, 2015 in News by RBN

East Bay Express | David Downs

Oregon has taken the lead in righting some of the wrongs of the War on Weed. On Monday, The New York Times reported on Oregon’s leadership in expunging marijuana violations from citizens’ records.

Even simple pot tickets can haunt someone for the rest of his or her life, sabotaging job hiring and other milestones. So Portland’s Metropolitan Public Defender’s office is running “expungement clinics” to forever seal records of past pot crimes.

The Times interviewed a 43-year-old mother dogged by a pot ticket from her twenties. She handed a bong to a cop more than two decades ago, and it has disqualified her for jobs and she couldn’t volunteer at her kid’s school. Now, no one will see that conviction ever again.

click to enlargeoregon.png

No state has gone further than Oregon, experts say.

Anyone with any low-level felony or misdemeanor on their record that’s at least ten years old can wipe their record clean, if they have not re-offended. In 2016, more serious felony pot convictions, like growing, will be eligible for record sealing.

One new law says courts must use the standards of current law — full marijuana legalization — when considering clearing records. Citizens who were under 21 at the time of their bust are eligible for fast-track records-clearing.

The Times notes:

Clearing a record of past convictions, even in states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, remains controversial. In Colorado, prosecutors have wide latitude to oppose such applications and often do, especially in cases in which a person faced more serious felony charges, like drug manufacturing, but pleaded guilty to a lesser offense like simple possession.

California also faces the massive issue of people currently and formerly incarcerated for acts that might no longer be a crime.

For the first time in a century, certain marijuana activity is fully legal in the state under new California medical marijuana regulations. Patients don’t just have “limited immunity”, new license-holders will be 100 percent legal. The catch is: felony convictions, say for distributing marijuana, disqualify potential licensees. Senate Bill 643 reads:

“The licensing authority may deny the application for licensure or renewal of a state license if any of the following conditions apply: … The applicant or licensee has been convicted of an offense that is substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the business or profession for which the application is made, … includ[ing]…:
(A) A felony conviction for the illegal possession for sale, sale, manufacture, transportation, or cultivation of a controlled substance.
(B) A violent felony conviction, …
(C) A serious felony conviction, …
(D) A felony conviction involving fraud, deceit, or embezzlement.”

Any adult-use legalization initiative that appears on the ballot will face controversy for either releasing people convicted of crimes that no longer exist, or keeping them in jail.

Groups like the California ACLU and the California NAACP are also working to ensure that former pot felons can get licensed in the legal industry.