Cannabis Expungement Law Takes Effect in D.C.

The measure that was approved by the Council of the District of Columbia late last year mandates an “automatic sealing for non-dangerous, non-convictions as well as shorten the waiting periods before a person is eligible to seal their record,” and “would also expand the eligibility of who can seal their record.” The bill was signed by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in January, but its enactment was delayed due to an arcane part of lawmaking in our nation’s capital. 

Laws in D.C. are subject to congressional oversight and approval––a stipulation that has prevented the district from implementing legal marijuana sales, despite the fact that voters there legalized cannabis back in 2014.

After Bowser signed the cannabis expungement measure in January, the bill was transmitted to Congress. As NORML explained, all “legislation must undergo a 30-day Congressional review prior to becoming law,” and absent a Congressional intervention, the bill will then become law.

That moment is now––or rather, on March 10, when the law officially took effect.

NORML has more on the new law:

“The Act provides for the automatic review and expungement of any convictions or citations specific to marijuana-related offenses that have subsequently been decriminalized or legalized in the District of Columbia, as well as any ‘records related only to simple possession for any quantity of marijuana in violation of D.C. Code § 48-904.01(d)(1) before February 15, 2015.’ It requires all cannabis-specific expungements to be processed by the courts by January 1, 2025.”

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, hailed the new law.

“Thousands of DC residents unduly carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that District lawmakers, most Americans, and a growing number of states, no longer consider to be a crime,” Armenato said. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”

In 2021, it appeared that legal cannabis sales might finally be coming to Washington, D.C.

That’s because Senate Democrats at the time introduced a draft of an appropriations bill that did not include the so-called “Harris Rider,” a budget rider named for Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland that had appeared in every such bill since 2014.

The Harris Rider has precluded Washington, D.C. from engaging in legal commercial marijuana sales. 

At the time, Bowser celebrated the rider’s apparent exclusion from the proposed bill.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said at the time. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing D.C. to spend our local funds as we see fit.”

Activist groups pressured Democrats in Congress to hold firm and ditch the Harris Rider.

“In one hand, Congress continues to make strides in advancing federal marijuana reform grounded in racial justice, while simultaneously being responsible for prohibiting the very jurisdiction that led the country in legalizing marijuana through this lens from being able to regulate it. This conflict and contradiction must end now,” Queen Adesuyi, Senior National Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement last year.

But it was not to be.

The appropriations bill that ultimately emerged last year included the Harris Rider.

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M-1 of dead prez Discusses Criminal Justice Reform, Last Prisoner Project Benefit Concert

People remain behind bars for cannabis-related convictions despite the abundance of legalization and decriminalization measures that roll out in the U.S. Rather than be apathetic about cannabis prisoners, it’s time to do something about it.

Keep Austin Weed is partnering with cannabis criminal justice reform nonprofit Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and pioneering hip-hop group dead prez. LPP focuses on three key criminal justice reform initiatives: prisoner release, cannabis record clearance, and reentry support. 

Dead prez will be performing at a benefit concert for LPP on March 13 from 6-10 p.m. at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during the South by Southwest (SXSW) tech, film, music, education, and culture festival in Austin, Texas. The Far Out Lounge & Stage provides more information about the event Let’s Get Free on the website.

The event marks the appointment of Mutulu Olugbala, aka M-1, of dead prez, to LPP’s Board of Directors. He’ll be joining cannabis industry leaders, executives, and activists who are committed to supporting LPP’s mission to free cannabis prisoners who still remain behind bars.

There will be a performance by dead prez along with special guests, including Blindspotting creators Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), both of whom appear in the original 2018 film.

Arrests Continue

According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, state and local law enforcement agencies reported 170,856 arrests for cannabis possession in 2021, slightly down from over 226,000 in 2020. And Texas was home to the highest number of arrests, with over 60,000 arrests.

Despite all of the decriminalization measures, including Texas’s city-level decriminalization measures, the arrests continue, and people remain behind bars for outdated laws. LPP estimates at least 40,000 remain incarcerated in the U.S. for crimes involving cannabis. 

“Indeed this is fundamentally wrong,” M-1 tells High Times. “It’s plain to see that the U.S. agenda of mass incarceration is still their priority. This is glaring due to the changed public perception and recent decriminalization of cannabis. These contradictions expose the depth of injustice in this country as the undeniable power of plant medicine continues to grow.”

The mixed messages we get from the government aren’t going to work. 

That’s one of the reasons M-1 agreed to join Last Prisoner Project’s Board of Directors.

“The Last Prisoner Project has done tremendous work fighting for the justice and freedom of cannabis prisoners which completely aligns with work I have been doing as a revolutionary cultural worker. I’m excited to be seated on this board and bring my years of experience and resources to this mission,” M-1 says. “LPP is the counterbalance to a growing cannabis industry which should be celebrating this legacy and people who paid the price to push our culture forward.”

Courtesy Last Prisoner Project

Get Political with dead prez

Check out LPP’s latest Pardons To Progress campaign that puts pressure on local governors to use their clemency power to release those incarcerated for cannabis offenses on the state level if you want to get involved, M-1 says.

If you’ve been listening to dead prez for the past two decades, the group has adopted a strong political tone since day one. 

“Since everything is political in my opinion, we have to hold this government and present administration to their promise to release cannabis prisoners,” M-1 says. “It’s imperative that we engage in this fight in every circle we may find ourselves in as most of us have been affected by the unfair imprisonment of so many of our family and community. I have been fortunate to use music and culture and tools to spread our word and raise our platforms.” 

Let’s Get Free Concert hosted by Keep Austin Weed takes place in Austin where voters decriminalized cannabis, along with a handful of other cities in Texas. The next step is anyone’s best guess.

“Abolishing prohibition in Texas (and nationally) would be a tremendous victory for our populace. The economic benefit alone would literally be reparations to all of us who have been impacted negatively by this outdated legal system,” M-1 says. “Dead prez will be shouting this message from the stage along with some special guests at the Far Out Lounge in Austin. With a global spotlight on Texas during that time, LPP will have a great opportunity to gain more support.”

Cannabis Prisoners

Richard DeLisi served 32 years of a 99-year sentence for a nonviolent crime. He was released from prison on Dec. 8, 2020. But during his time in prison, DeLisi’s wife and other family members passed away. His daughter was paralyzed, and he missed many memories. At age 71, he was released from prison in Florida, making him the longest-serving, nonviolent cannabis prisoner in the U.S. People like DeLisi deserve to have an early hand in legal cannabis, probably more than anyone.

“First of all—free all cannabis prisoners!” M-1 says. “Welcome home to Mr. DeLisi and I’m so happy to be sharing a space with him to call for more people like him to get what they deserve… Justice!! The Legacy Operators should be the fashioners of what the transition to legal cannabis should look like in order to avoid the bureaucracy that has happened in other states that are attempting to build competent weed policies. Richard DeLisi has a legal cannabis brand named DeLisioso and they are actually the presenting sponsor of the concert.”

Police brutality and general overreach continues to overlap with outdated cannabis laws. In Denton, Texas, for instance, cannabis was decriminalized, but city management and police chose to arrest people anyways.

“I have endured the traumatic experience of law enforcement harassment many times,” M-1 says. “Part of what must be done is to deal with mental health challenges that have arisen around our colonial relationship to the police. I represent a generation of people who have been persecuted for recognizing cannabis as a wellness.”

Join dead prez March 13 at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during SXSW in Austin.

“We will right these wrongs, M-1 says. “Free ‘em All!!

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Justice Department Launches Expungement Application

The time is now to expedite the process and get proof of pardon for low-level federal cannabis convictions that no longer stand today yet still haunt individuals, sometimes decades later. According to a March 3 announcement, the U.S. Department of Justice is launching the application to make the expungement process easier for people with low-level federal cannabis convictions. 

For people who are interested, you’ll need to gather personal details like name, mailing address, email address, and citizenship status. You’ll also need to know the docket or case number and the code section that was charged, and provide copies of documentation, such as charging documents (indictment, complaint, or criminal information) or conviction documents. It’s also important to know the exact date the sentence was imposed.

Pardons for low-level cannabis convictions were promised by President Joe Biden last October.

“Today, the Justice Department is launching an application for eligible individuals to receive certificate of proof that they were pardoned under the Oct. 6, 2022, proclamation by President Biden,” the department wrote on March 3. 

“On Oct. 6, 2022, the President announced a full, unconditional and categorical pardon for prior federal and D.C. offenses of simple possession of marijuana. The President’s pardon lifts barriers to housing, employment and educational opportunities for thousands of people with those prior convictions. President Biden directed the Justice Department to develop a process for individuals to receive their certificate of pardon.”

The Application for Certificate of Pardon will be available on the Office of the Pardon Attorney’s website. People with eligible cases may submit documentation to the Office of the Pardon Attorney and receive a certificate indicating the person was pardoned on Oct. 6, 2022, for simple possession of cannabis.

The President’s pardon can assist pardoned cases by removing civil or legal penalties such as restrictions on the right to vote, to hold office, or to sit on a jury.

The process makes getting proof of pardon quite a bit easier for people seeking to obtain licenses, bonds, or employment. President Biden said last October that the point of pardoning low-level cannabis convictions is to “help relieve the consequences arising from these convictions.” 

In order to be eligible for a certificate, an applicant must have been charged or convicted of simple possession of cannabis in either a federal court or D.C. Superior Court, and the applicant must have legally resided the United States at the time of the offense. In addition, an individual must have been a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident on Oct. 6, 2022.

Those who were convicted of state-level cannabis offenses do not qualify for the pardon.

In a historic move on October 6, 2022, Biden announced that he will pardon people with federal convictions for simple possession of cannabis, and announced that he will direct the U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to begin the process of reviewing the classification of cannabis at the federal level.

The White House statement noted that under current federal law, cannabis falls under Schedule I alongside deadly drugs like fentanyl. The White House will  “review expeditiously” the plant’s current classification.

“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden tweeted. “Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.”

For more information about determining eligibility and to find answers to frequently asked questions, visit Presidential Proclamation on Marijuana Possession.

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Alaska Courts Clear Past Cannabis Convictions From State Database

The Alaska Supreme Court will clear the records of about 750 cannabis convictions from a state database in a move to help protect past offenders from the negative impact of a criminal record for conduct that’s no longer against the law. Under an order signed by the court’s five justices in January, records of past marijuana offenses will be removed from Courtview, the state’s online database of court cases, on May 1.

The court’s action continues the push to expunge convictions for cannabis-related offenses in states that have legalized marijuana in an attempt to mitigate the harms caused by years of cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs. The order applies to cases in which the defendant was at least 21 years old, and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis was the only charge.

Legislative attempts by lawmakers to remove cannabis convictions from Courtview have so far been unsuccessful, although bills are pending for the current legislative session. The action by the Supreme Court largely accomplishes the goal, but the new policy doesn’t remove the records of cannabis-related convictions from all state databases. Attorney Jana Weltzin said the move is a positive development for cannabis policy reform efforts in Alaska.

“If you’re older than 21 and you violated simple marijuana possession—meaning marijuana under an ounce—and you had it on your person, and it’s not connected with any other crime, then the Supreme Court of Alaska says we’re removing those from Courtview,” Weltzin told local media.

Nancy Meade, general counsel for the Alaska Court System, said that the change originated with administrative staff and was considered by the justices through the Supreme Court’s normal procedures.

“Given that (cannabis) has been legal for eight years, it appeared to the Supreme Court that this was an appropriate time not to have people, as I say, suffer the negative consequences that can stem from having your name posted on Courtview,” Meade said in a statement quoted by the Alaska Beacon. “Because the conduct is considered legal right now,” she said.

Court’s Order Doesn’t Affect All Conviction Records

The decision by the Supreme Court doesn’t expunge past cannabis convictions from the state’s criminal records, which are maintained by the Alaska Department of Public Safety (DPS). Officials clarified that information on such convictions would still be available at courthouses for inspection by members of the public and through formal background checks.

“The court system isn’t the official criminal record repository for the state of Alaska,” Meade said.

Records of arrests and convictions can have an impact on the ability of past offenders to secure employment and housing. But past legislative efforts to remove cannabis conviction records from Courtview haven’t been approved by lawmakers.

“A lot of folks in my district, they have these barriers that are put in place, and a simple rule change, policy change, legislation, could change it for their entire lives,” said Republican state Rep. Stanley Wright.

Last year, the Alaska House of Representatives approved a bill to conceal cannabis convictions from Courtview and criminal background searches by a vote of 30-8. The state Senate, however, failed to pass the bill before the end of the 2022 legislative session. A similar bill to shield cannabis convictions was pre-filed for the 2023 session by Wright on January 19, less than two weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision to remove the records from Courtview. Forrest Wolfe, Wright’s chief of staff, said that shielding the records of cannabis convictions can help mitigate the exodus of working-age people in Alaska that has in part led to a labor shortage in the state.

“It’s all about reducing barriers to entry, especially for employment,” Wolfe said. “In Alaska, we have a huge workforce shortage. If you were 21 years old or older, and it was some sort of a nonviolent crime, you were charged with and convicted of, now that cannabis is legal in the state, we don’t think it should be reflected negatively on your record,” Wolfe added.

Wright is reportedly considering whether his bill, which already has bipartisan support from three Democrats and two independent lawmakers, is still needed after the Supreme Court order to remove cannabis convictions from Courtview, while Democratic Sen. Löki Tobin is reportedly considering introducing a similar bill. Unlike the Supreme Court’s policy, which only covers court records, more comprehensive legislation could also protect information on cannabis convictions from being released through criminal background checks. If Wright’s bill is passed, up to 8,500 past cannabis convictions could be affected and hidden from view, according to information from the DPS.

The Alaska Supreme Court has a history of handing down decisions that have protected the rights of cannabis users. In 1975, the court ruled that the right to privacy guaranteed in the Alaska Constitution protects the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana in private residences, effectively legalizing cannabis for personal use.

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Over 7,500 Pot Convictions Expunged in Missouri

More than 7,500 individuals in Missouri have had their prior marijuana-related convictions expunged with recreational cannabis now legal in the state.

The expungement is the latest byproduct of the constitutional amendment that was approved by Missouri voters last fall, which legalized pot for adults and cleared the way for Missourians to have their records cleared.

According to the Riverfront Times, passage of Amendment 3 “kick-started a process to expunge criminal records related to nonviolent marijuana offenses that otherwise would have been legal had Amendment 3 always been a part of Missouri’s constitution.”

“The majority of expunged convictions so far are misdemeanors. As of [last] Tuesday, courts have granted 6,121 expungements for misdemeanors related to nonviolent cannabis offenses that did not involve selling to minors or driving under the influence of cannabis. More than 1,200 felony convictions have also been expunged,” the publication reported.

Dan Viets, secretary of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws who helped author the state’s medical and recreational cannabis laws, told the Riverfront Times that the process is “going faster” than he expected.

That has become a recurring theme for the Show Me State’s rollout of the new marijuana law.

Legal recreational pot sales launched on February 6, which was earlier than anticipated.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported at the time that the nascent cannabis industry expected “that the licenses required to sell non-medical cannabis would not be issued by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services until [days later].” 

The launch of legal weed sales came only a month after the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said that it was finalizing rules for the new adult-use cannabis program.

“Once rules are effective, DHSS will begin approving or denying requests from licensed medical marijuana facilities to convert to comprehensive facilities, which can serve both medical and adult-use consumers. After conversion, sales to adult-use consumers may begin as soon as comprehensive dispensary facilities are ready to commence operating under their new authority. Also per Amendment 3 to Article XIV, DHSS will begin accepting applications for consumer personal cultivation by Feb. 6. Once approved, this will allow authorized persons, who are at least 21 years of age, to grow plants for personal, non-commercial use within an enclosed locked facility at their residence,” the department said in a January bulletin.

But as in other states that have lifted the prohibition on cannabis use, Missouri’s new law aims to redress previous wrongs inflicted by anti-pot laws.

According to the Riverfront Times, the newly passed amendment “established deadlines for when sentencing courts must expunge certain crimes.”

“One deadline is fast approaching — sentencing courts must complete adjudication for misdemeanors of people currently in prison or jail by March 8. But most deadlines to expunge other crimes are at least 3 1/2 months away,” the Times reported. “Circuit courts have until June 8 to order the expungement of criminal history records for all misdemeanor marijuana offenses of people no longer under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. And they have until December 8 to expunge criminal histories of people who already completed their sentences for felony marijuana offenses that are no longer crimes.”

“Questions about how Missouri’s court system could sustain the expected influx of expungement requests circulated before Amendment 3’s passage in November. In October, the Missouri Supreme Court requested almost $7 million to cover the cost of erasing eligible marijuana convictions. The Missouri Office of State Courts Administration also submitted a supplemental budget request asking for $2.5 million to cover clerks’ overtime and hire additional information technology staffers,” the publication continued

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University of Arizona Students Launch Expungement Clinic

Student advocates from the University of Arizona at the James E. Rogers School of Law in Tucson are personally taking action to help people clear records for low-level cannabis-related convictions. A series of expungement event dates are unfolding, and students say that the initial process to get records cleared is fast.

KGUN 9 reports that locals, including one with a charge dating back to 1976, are taking advantage of the school’s expungement program. Cannabis-related charges that old are still impacting employment and other opportunities.

Law school students including Mia Burcham and Rebecca Caro Cohen are helping people expunge their records at expungement clinics on campus. To do this, they look up disposition dates which they said are usually available through public access court records.

“It’s a great feeling when someone walks out with a cleared record. It could be pretty life-changing,” Burcham said.

Burcham also provides expungement training and calls for volunteers for help. The training covers the appropriate forms and process, as well as clinic expectations and tips for client interaction. 

The expungement process is relatively fast. According to Burcham and Cohen, people don’t even need an I.D. to get a record expunged. All they need to know is the date when they received the charge or arrest and where.

Some of the oldest charges, however, aren’t on any computer system and take longer to process. When that happens, petitioners seeking expungements must contact the court directly and ask for a records search. 

“We really hope when people come in that we’ll be able to get them out the door with a completed petition and so we aren’t able to do that which is frustrating,” Cohen said.

The next round of expungements is scheduled to take place on March 25 at the law school. They said if someone gets denied, they work with the Arizona Marijuana Expungement Coalition to provide free legal help to people.

If someone cannot make it to the University of Arizona clinic in Tuscon, they can visit this website to sign up for an expungement. It typically takes about one to two months total to find out whether someone got their record expunged.

Arizona residents with low-level cannabis convictions can have their records wiped clean under a state expungement program launched on July 13, 2021. The expungements for minor cannabis convictions are thanks to Proposition 207, the 2020 ballot initiative to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older that was approved by 60% of Arizona voters.

Under the program, people with low-level convictions for possessing, transporting, or consuming 2.5 ounces or less of cannabis, of which no more than 12.5 grams can be a cannabis concentrate or extract, are eligible to have their records expunged. 

People with convictions for possessing, cultivating, processing, or transporting up to six cannabis plants at their primary residence can also apply to clear their records. Expungements can also be issued for convictions for possessing, using, or transporting paraphernalia related to the consumption, cultivation, and processing of cannabis.

People who are eligible for expungement are required to petition the courts to have their records cleared. Help is also available from other organizations including Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), which has been offering expungement clinics through its Project Clean Slate initiative.

Arizona’s most populous county took an early lead. The Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County granted 3,643 petitions for expungement of cannabis-related charges since the process started, according to an Aug. 30, 2021 press release.

Law students with the know-how are proving to be helpful in clearing records under Arizona’s expungement program.

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Biden Mentions Freeing Prisoners with Cannabis Convictions in MLK Day Speech

On Jan. 16, President Joe Biden spoke at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast event in Washington D.C., which was hosted by the National Action Network. In his speech, he briefly included a mention of consumers in prison for cannabis convictions. “And one other thing about equal justice. I’m keeping my promise,” he said in his speech. “No one—I’ll say it again—no one should be in federal prison for the mere possession of marijuana. No one.”

“In addition to that, they should be released from prison and completely pardoned and their entire record expunged so that if they have to ask, ‘Have you ever been [convicted]?’ You can honestly say, ‘No.’”

During his speech, he also mentioned his efforts to help release Brittney Griner, the all-star WNBA athlete who was detained and sentenced in Russia for possessing a small amount of cannabis oil. “And we brought Brittney Griner home just in time for Christmas.  And we have more to bring home as well,” he said briefly.

Biden appears committed to his promise to prevent citizens from being convicted and sent to federal prison for cannabis crimes, especially since his initial announcement in October 2022. Previously, Biden signed an infrastructure bill in November 2021, which included improvements for cannabis studies. In December 2022, he signed a bill called the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act which “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) voted to propose an amendment that would redefine simple cannabis possession in order to help guide judges preceding over cannabis possession cases. The USSC also released a report on Jan. 10 which analyzes data on cannabis possession sentences. During Fiscal Year 2021, 4,405 people received extra points on their criminal history record because of a cannabis possession conviction, and 1,765 entered a “higher criminal history category” because of that conviction. The report also found a decline in the number of people convicted for federal simple possession, from 2,172 in Fiscal Year 2014 to just 145 in Fiscal Year 2021.

The USSC initially estimated in an October 2022 report that 6,577 people could potentially receive pardons.

Biden’s pardon announcement in October has led other state governors to take similar action. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced that he would be exploring statewide weed pardons, and later signing an executive order in November to allow medical cannabis use. More than 1,450 Arizona residents with federal cannabis possession convictions were pardoned on Oct. 25, 2022. 

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued more than 45,000 pardons in November 2022. “We are a state, and a nation, of second chances. Today, I am taking steps to right the wrongs of a flawed, inequitable, and outdated criminal justice system in Oregon when it comes to personal marijuana possession,” Brown said in a statement. “For the estimated 45,000 individuals who are receiving a pardon for prior state convictions of marijuana possession, this action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”

Most recently, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf granted 369 pardons on Jan. 12, which adds to a total of 2,540. “I have taken this process very seriously—reviewing and giving careful thought to each and every one of these 2,540 pardons and the lives they will impact,” Wolf said. “Every single one of the Pennsylvanians who made it through the process truly deserves their second chance, and it’s been my honor to grant it.”

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Connecticut Clears Nearly 43K Cannabis Convictions

On New Year’s Day, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced that 42,964 cannabis convictions were processed to be erased. That number was fielded a month ago in Gov. Lamont’s initial announcement on Dec. 8, 2022.

The governor expressed how prior cannabis convictions shouldn’t be a detriment to a person’s chance at employment and other opportunities.

“As of this morning, our administration has marked 42,964 cannabis convictions erased, as planned,” Gov. Lamont tweeted. “It’s one step forward in ending the War on Drugs and giving our citizens a second chance to achieve their dreams.”

Many different reactions followed, mostly positive, with one Twitter user criticizing the governor as being “weak on crime.”

The move fulfills provisions included in legislation that the governor signed over a year ago. Gov. Lamont signed Senate Bill 1201 on June 22, 2021. That effectively made Connecticut the 19th state to legalize the adult use of cannabis. 

A proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis was initially put forward by the governor to the General Assembly as Senate Bill 888. He also proposed similar legislation in February 2020 as Senate Bill 16.

Connecticut residents with additional minor convictions on their records will be able to petition courts to seal their records under separate legislation. “Convictions for violations of … possession of less than or equal to four ounces of a cannabis-type substance imposed before January 1, 2000, and between October 1, 2015, and June 30, 2021,” the governor’s office said. “Convictions for violations of … possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia for cannabis imposed before July 1, 2021; [and] Convictions for violations … imposed before July 1, 2021, for manufacturing, selling, possessing with intent to sell, or giving or administering to another person a cannabis-type substance and the amount involved was under four ounces or six plants grown inside a person’s home for personal use.”

These types of convictions should not impact an individual’s ability to gain a job, the governor said last month.

“On Jan. 1, thousands of low-level cannabis convictions in Connecticut will be automatically erased due legislation we’ve enacted,” Gov. Lamont tweeted last month. “Especially as employers seek to fill job openings, an old conviction for low-level possession should not hold someone back from their aspirations.”

President Joe Biden also issued some additional pardons on Friday, including a few people with cannabis or other drug convictions. 

Connecticut Sales Begin

The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) announced that medical cannabis dispensaries that obtained a hybrid license can start selling adult-use cannabis as early as 10 am ET on January 10 next week.

“For decades, the war on cannabis caused injustices and created disparities while doing little to protect public health and safety,” Lamont said in a press release. “The law that I signed today begins to right some of those wrongs by creating a comprehensive framework for a regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, criminal justice and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous, unregulated market and support a new and equitable sector of our economy that will create jobs.”

State officials said that they received over 15,000 applications for dispensary licenses prior to the deadline set in May 2022.

As in other states and cities that have legalized cannabis, Connecticut’s new law contained a significant social justice component, with provisions to award the first retail licenses to individuals from areas most adversely affected by long standing drug policies, and to clear the records of those with certain marijuana-related convictions.  

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom Pardons 10, Some Cannabis Convictions

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced 10 pardons on December 23, including at least two stemming from cannabis-related charges. Some of the charges are decades old, and one charge dates back to 1973. The list of pardons includes some of the ways people have changed their lives since the times of their convictions.

The governor recognized some of the systems in place that are “counterproductive” to public safety when you look at the big picture. Convictions can haunt a person’s life, leading to deportation, permanent family separation, or other consequences.

“The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant pardons,” Gov. Newsom’s announcement reads. “The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation and increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry. A pardon may also remove unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation.

Pardons do not forgive or minimize the harm caused by crime. Instead, these pardons recognize the pardon grantees’ self-development and rehabilitation since then.”

In the announcement, the governor noted how victims of crimes were heavily considered in making these decisions. “The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. The office also posted more general information about victim services.

The pardons include information on ways people have made changes. Some people on the list even went into substance abuse or other types of counseling. Below are the ten people who received pardons from the governor:

  • John Berger, sentenced in 1995 for transporting a controlled substance. Berger now works to support others with their sobriety.
  • Lucas Beltran Dominguez, sentenced in 2008 for transporting or selling cannabis and possession of cannabis for sale. Dominguez is now a father of seven and is an active member of his church.
  • Michael Farrier, sentenced in 1990 for first degree burglary and second degree robbery.
  • Kimberly Gregorio, sentenced in 1988 for possession of a controlled substance for sale and obstructing an officer.
  • James King, III, sentenced in 1988 for the sale of cocaine. 
  • Santiago Lopez, sentenced in 2000 for possession of cannabis for sale, in 2004 for possession of cannabis for sale, and in 2001 for possession of a controlled substance for sale and possession of cannabis for sale. Lopez is now a facility manager of his church and a peer counselor.
  • Kenneth Lyerly, sentenced in 2004 for possession of a controlled substance for sale.
  • Jimmy Platon, sentenced in 1973 for trespassing and in 1978 for possession of a controlled substance for sale.
  • Julie Ruehle, sentenced in 1999 for two cases, one for possession of a controlled substance and the other for taking a vehicle without consent.
  • Kathy Uetz, sentenced in 1991 for possession of a controlled substance and in 1997 for possession of a controlled substance for sale. Uetz volunteered over 5,000 hours with a community emergency response team.

To date, Gov. Newsom has granted a total of 140 pardons, 123 commutations, and 35 reprieves while in office.

Similar efforts are being made by the governor’s office. Gov. Newsom also signed a bill into law in September 2022 that will create the option for an alternate plea to individuals facing certain drug convictions. The “Alternate Plea Act” enables prosecutors to offer some defendants who have been charged with drug-related offenses a public nuisance plea. Under the law, prosecutors will be able to offer the public nuisance plea at their discretion.

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Connecticut Governor To Expunge Thousands of Cannabis Convictions

Tens of thousands of Connecticut residents are in line to have their records cleared after the state’s Democratic governor announced Tuesday that he is expunging low-level cannabis possession convictions.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s office said in a press release that records “in approximately 44,000 cases will be fully or partially erased” next month by way of “an automated erasure method.”

“On January 1, thousands of people in Connecticut will have low-level cannabis convictions automatically erased due to the cannabis legalization bill we enacted last year,” Lamont said in a statement. “Especially as Connecticut employers seek to fill hundreds of thousands of job openings, an old conviction for low-level cannabis possession should not hold someone back from pursuing their career, housing, professional, and educational aspirations.”

The expungements are part of the state’s year-old cannabis law. In June 2021, Lamont signed a bill that legalized recreational cannabis use for adults and established the regulatory framework for a legal marijuana market. 

The state said that it received more than 15,000 applications for dispensary licenses prior to the deadline in May. 

Legal adult-use sales are expected to begin next year

As in other states and cities that have lifted the prohibition on pot, Connecticut’s new law contained a significant social justice component, with provisions to award the first retail licenses to individuals from areas most adversely affected by long standing drug policies, and to clear the records of those with certain marijuana-related convictions. 

“That’s why I introduced a bill and worked hard with our partners in the legislature and other stakeholders to create a comprehensive framework for a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous unregulated market and support a new, growing sector of our economy which will create jobs,” Lamont said after signing the bill last year. “By allowing adults to possess cannabis, regulating its sale and content, training police officers in the latest techniques of detecting and preventing impaired driving, and expunging the criminal records of people with certain cannabis crimes, we’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive with our neighboring states.” 

On Tuesday, Lamont’s office spelled out how the expungements will work in practice.

Residents “who have had their records erased may tell employers, landlords, and schools that the conviction never occurred,” the release said, while also providing details on eligibility for expungement.

“Convictions for violations…for possession of under four ounces of a non-narcotic, non-hallucinogenic substance imposed between January 1, 2000, and September 30, 2015, will be automatically erased on January 1, 2023,” the governor’s office said, adding that people “included under this provision of the law need not do anything to make these convictions eligible for erasure.”

The governor’s office said that the “Clean Slate automated erasure system is expected to be fully implemented during the second half of 2023,” implementation of which “involves significant information technology upgrades to allow criminal justice agencies to send and receive data to determine who can have their offenses erased and to update record systems.”

Other violations, including the following may also be erased, though individuals will have to file a petition to a court: “Convictions for violations of … possession of less than or equal to four ounces of a cannabis-type substance imposed before January 1, 2000, and between October 1, 2015, and June 30, 2021; Convictions for violations of … possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia for cannabis imposed before July 1, 2021; [and] Convictions for violations … imposed before July 1, 2021, for manufacturing, selling, possessing with intent to sell, or giving or administering to another person a cannabis-type substance and the amount involved was under four ounces or six plants grown inside a person’s home for personal use.”

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