Five states have made it easier for people convicted of some marijuana crimes to get their records sealed or expunged. Other states have refused to take that step, with opponents arguing that people who knowingly violated prior laws shouldn’t be let off the hook just because the law changed.
When Californians voted to legalize marijuana last year, they also voted to let people ask courts to reduce or hide convictions for past marijuana crimes. State residents can now petition courts to change some felonies to misdemeanors, change some misdemeanors to infractions, and wipe away convictions for possessing or growing small amounts of the drug, reports Stateline. “We call it reparative justice: repairing the harms caused by the war on drugs,” says Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that helped write the California ballot initiative. Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon also have made it easier for people convicted of some marijuana crimes to get their records sealed or expunged, which generally means removing convictions from public databases. Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow people to expunge any conviction that’s no longer a crime, such as marijuana possession.
These efforts by states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana are part of a national trend toward making it easier for people to seal or expunge a range of convictions. People with criminal records can find it harder to get a job and find housing. Allowing people to seal their criminal records or reclassify convictions is not the rule in states that have legalized or decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Bills that would remove or reduce convictions on people’s records are often opposed by lawmakers and prosecutors who argue that people who knowingly violated prior laws shouldn’t be let off the hook just because the law changed.