The Movement To Expunge Cannabis Convictions In Legalization States Picks Up Steam – Weed News

By Clarence Walker

As marijuana legalization spreads into various states, some are allowing people who’d been previously been convicted of possession of a small amount of pot to clear their records.

They have their convictions either wiped off their record forever under state expungement laws or, in some cases, have low-level felony marijuana convictions be reduced to misdemeanors. In another variation, a marijuana conviction can be sealed from public view pursuant to a court order under a state’s nondisclosure law.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, over 574,000 American citizens were charged with simple possession in 2016.

“It really makes sense to not burden these people with a lifelong criminal record,” Kate Bell, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project in Maryland, recently told the Washington Post.

Approximately 12 more states are considering marijuana legalization this year, with possibly more hopping on the express train as the continuing quest for marijuana legalization continue to roll down the tracks at full speed, making 2018 a pivotal year in the ever-growing movement to convince lawmakers to legalize pot in all 50 states.

“With over 60 percent of Americans now supporting the full legalization of marijuana for adults, the momentum behind marijuana law reform will not only continue but increase as we head into 2018,” said NORML executive director Erik Altieri.

People with prior marijuana convictions face a harsh reality when it comes to becoming a productive member of society with a criminal record. A simple marijuana conviction carries adverse consequences by diminishing a person’s access to employment and higher education, military induction denial, and a person can even be denied access to fair housing, particularly apartment rentals.

Recently at least 4,900 Californians petitioned the courts to have their prior marijuana convictions expunged off their criminal record.

Washington state legalized marijuana in 2012, yet many convicted citizens have been burdened with criminal records for simple misdemeanor pot convictions while slick wealthy investors make a killing selling legal weed. Moving to redress the injustice, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced in February that the city will toss several hundred low-level misdemeanor marijuana cases.

“The war on drugs ended up being a war on people who needed help, who needed opportunity and who needed treatment,” Durkan told a news conference at the time.

Similarly, prosecutors in San Francisco will throw out thousands of marijuana-related convictions dating back to 1975. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said earlier this year his office will dismiss and seal 3,038 misdemeanor convictions from before the state’s legalization of marijuana went into effect, with no action necessary from those convicted.

The moves make perfect sense. What else should happen to convictions for a victimless crime when that victimless behavior is now no longer a crime? American University Law Professor Jenny Roberts has an idea.

“If you’ve made a legislative determination that this is no longer criminal; why would you want to continue to have people feeling the ramifications of something that people going forward will no longer have to suffer?” she asked.

In many states that have legalized marijuana, lawmakers are moving in the same direction.

“Since this is now the law of Nevada, it’s important we allow folks who have made these mistakes in the past to have their records sealed up,” said Nevada Assemblyman William McCurdy, a Democrat who proposed a bill on the issue.

Oregon state law now allows people who’d been convicted of an ounce of marijuana or growing up to six marijuana plants to have their record sealed now that marijuana is legal.

But in Colorado, some lawmakers fought against the proposal. For example, the legislature considered a bill in 2014 to allow citizens to petition the courts to seal their criminal records for old convictions, but the bill died in committee after facing stiff opposition from prosecutors. The Colorado District Attorneys Council opposed the bill because, they argued, it allowed low-level drug dealers to wipe their records clean.

“There were many cases of (drug) distribution that were pleaded down to low-level (possession) felonies,” said council executive director Thomas Raynes.

“The bill creates a horrible precedent by retrofitting criminal sanctions for past conduct every time a new law is changed or passed,” objected Carolyn Tyler, spokeswoman for Republican Attorney General John Suthers.

This year, Colorado passed a less controversial law focused specifically on misdemeanor possession.

Nevada also suffered a mild setback. Governor Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed McCurdy’s bill requiring judges to seal records and vacate judgments for marijuana offenses that are now legal.

“To the extent there are individuals suffering under criminal records for conduct now legal in Nevada, those cases are best handled on a case-by-case basis,” Sandoval wrote in his veto statement. “Given other reforms to the sealing and expungement process in Nevada, a marijuana-specific law wasn’t necessary,” Sandoval added.

Although nearly a million people have been arrested for marijuana crimes in California during the past decade, according to Drug Policy Alliance, California courts only received 1,506 petitions from applicants requesting their marijuana conviction be sealed or expunged.

DPA further reported that more than 78,000 convictions qualify to be set aside in Oregon, yet few are seeking expungement. Oregon courts only received approximately 388 requests for set-asides in cases involving marijuana in 2015, with 453 in 2016, and 365 requests in 2017.

Courts are more likely, though, to reject petitioners with extensive criminal histories including violent crimes like murder, kidnapping, sexual assaults, money laundering and crimes involving large amount of drugs.

Marijuana is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana in 29 states. The following states are preparing marijuana offense expungement legislation:


Assembly Bill 1793, introduced by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-18th District), seeks to enact legislation that would allow the “automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction for an act that is not a crime as of January 1, 2017.” Under Proposition 64, residents of California are now allowed to possess and purchase up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivate no more than six plants for personal use. The voter-approved measure, in addition to legalizing adult-use consumption, cultivation, and distribution — allows individuals convicted of past criminal marijuana possessions to petition the courts to have those convictions expunged. An expensive and time-consuming venture for most individuals, the automatic expungement of records would be mandated by the passage AB-1793.


H.2785, authored by Rep. Aaron Vega (D-5th District), and cosigned by 25 other elected officials, would allow for the expungement of “records of marijuana arrest, detention, conviction and incarceration.” Marijuana use in Massachusetts was first decriminalized in 2008, with the voters approving medical marijuana just four years later in November 2012. Officially legalized for adult use on Nov. 8, 2016, residents are still waiting for their first recreational dispensary to open.

New Jersey

S.830, sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd District), would not only legalize the personal possession and use of small amounts of marijuana by those over the age of 21, the bill also allows a person convicted of a prior marijuana possession to present an application for expungement to the state’s Superior Court.


H.865, sponsored by Maxine Grad (D), Tom Burditt (R), Chip Conquest (D), would allow a person to file a petition with the court requesting expungement or sealing of the criminal history related to a conviction if “the person was convicted of an underlying offense for which the underlying conduct is no longer prohibited by law or designated as a criminal offense.”

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Greg David: Taxing decisions for New York as weed and betting near legality

In the near future, New York is likely to have no alternative but to legalize sports gambling and recreational use of marijuana. Whatever the social consequences, the moves will provide a nice boost in tax revenue to the state and the city.

The momentum for both initiatives is building. With neighboring Massachusetts legalizing pot and New Jersey moving to do the same, New York’s rationale for following suit is getting stronger. Some 63% of voters supported the idea in a recent poll. The need to move sooner rather than later was obvious when a New York Times investigation this month showed marijuana arrests were almost exclusively of African-Americans and Hispanics, even though whites use pot just as often.

The Supreme Court decision last week lifting a ban on sports betting outside Nevada set off a race among states—led by New Jersey—to seize a new opportunity.

The potential revenue from marijuana is reasonably clear from the experiences of other states that have legalized it, especially Colorado and Washington. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a report last week estimating the market at $3 billion in the state and a little more than a $1 billion in the city. Excise taxes, like those levied elsewhere, and sales taxes would annually produce $436 million for the state government, $336 million for the city and more than $500 million for other localities, Stringer projected.

Deciding how much to tax is complicated, however. Set the rate too high and buyers will make their purchases across state lines or from illegal dealers. (For that reason, the comptroller estimates, more than half of all cigarettes consumed in the state are smuggled from elsewhere.) Set it too low and the chance for more revenue is lost.


SOURCES: NYC comptroller, California Department of Tax and Fee Administration

No immediate windfall is likely, either, because it takes time for the market to develop. California reported last week that it took in $61 million in marijuana-related revenue for the first quarter of the year, much below what was expected.

The numbers are even bigger for sports gambling, which is expected to reach $150 billion. A study by Oxford Economics pegged the likely tax revenue to states and cities at $3.4 billion. The projections are based on a long list of assumptions. Revenue from new casinos in the state has been much less than forecast, so skepticism is warranted with sports betting as well.

Another issue is whether the money should be segregated. Stringer suggested revenue from marijuana should be used to “invest in communities most damaged by decades of criminalizing marijuana.” Segregating tax money like that is generally a bad idea, but it might be worth considering in this case.

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Hear how weed is changing America

Welcome to Season 1 of The Potcast!

We’re a podcast hosted by Jenny Kane, who covers marijuana for the RGJ and USA TODAY Network.  In the show, Jenny examines America’s shift toward legalizing marijuana by telling the stories of the people who are living it: pot farmers, rural sheriffs, a professional mountain biker, a Cordon Bleu cannabis chef.

You don’t have to be a stoner to listen. We’re not. We’re just interested in having a front-row seat at this historic moment when America unravels a century of marijuana prohibition.

Subscribe (for free!), rate and review the Potcast here.

Season 1 episodes:

Episode 1: Before 420: The true story behind pot’s biggest day

We’re going back to 1971, to find out the true story of how 420 — the universal code for pot — began. This story starts with a treasure map, a rogue California coast Guardsman and five adventurous stoners who are fortuitous enough to hang out with the Grateful Dead.

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Episode 2: Chef for Higher: Inside the secret world of a cannabis kitchen

Jenny talks to Los Angeles-based chef Andrea Drummer, who used to be a youth drug counselor touting the ubiquitous motto, “Just say no” to at-risk children. Not anymore.

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Episode 3: Old sheriff in town: A drug war veteran’s struggle with new pot

How does marijuana legalization change dog searches, evidence handling, and DUI testing for the police? Here’s the story of a rural county sheriff as he reckons his own values with the increasingly progressive, pot-friendly policies of our time.

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Episode 4: How one pro-mountain biker is paving the path for weed-loving athletes

Risk is professional mountain biker Teal Stetson Lee’s passion. So, when a marijuana company wanted to sponsor her, she said “hell yes”— despite the possible consequences. This show explores how athletes and cannabis don’t always go together.

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Episode 5: Meet the King of Cannabis, the senator who “loves pot”

Tick Segerblom rules Nevada’s pot policy and uses another kind of green — cash money — to get the Wild West on the cannabis caboose. The sneaker-wearing senator even has his own strain dedicated to his legacy.

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Episode 6: Inside the silent culture war of marijuana farms in California’s Emerald Triangle

California’s Emerald Triangle for decades has been an underground powerhouse for West Coast weed, but as the state goes online with recreational marijuana, the lifestyle of many old school farmers is in danger.

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Authorities seize $300,000 of marijuana products in Henderson

Henderson Police

A photo of some of the $300,000 worth of marijuana products Henderson Police say were seized after authorities served a search warrant on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, at a home in the the 800 block of Sheerwater Avenue, near Maryland Parkway and Boulder Highway.

Authorities seized nearly $300,000 worth of illegal marijuana products from a Henderson man’s vehicle and home as part of an investigation into the sale of drugs to minors, according to Henderson Police.

After stopping the man’s vehicle, Henderson and Metro police, along with federal agents, executed a search warrant Tuesday in the 800 block of Sheerwater Avenue, near Maryland Parkway and Boulder Highway, Henderson Police spokesman Rodrigo Pena said.

They seized more than 52 pounds of marijuana-infused edibles, like cookies, brownies and candies, 28 pounds of high-potency THC wax, 3,500 THC vaporizer cartridges, 1.7 pounds of marijuana flower and nearly 300 concentrated marijuana THC syringes, Pena said.

The man’s name was not released because the case is pending indictment through the Clark County District Attorney’s Office, Pena said. The man was not taken into custody.

While Nevada allows the sale of marijuana at licensed dispensaries, this type of bust confirms a robust black market still exists, said Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association. Recreational marijuana sales became legal in Nevada on July 1, and with time, police will catch up with the illegal dealers, she said.

“Illegal dealers are essentially taking money out of the state’s hands because they’re not charging a tax,” Pena said.

Tuesday’s operation was conducted by the Southern Nevada Heroin Task Force and included Henderson and Metro police officers and agents from the federal Homeland Security Investigations department.

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This seed-to-sale cannabis platform wants to be the PayPal of pot

In June 2016, Microsoft made a startling announcement: It had partnered with a Los Angeles-based company called Kind Financial to start offering marijuana software to government agencies. The software, part of a government-specific version of Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, allowed states that had legalized medical or recreational marijuana to easily track that cannabis from the moment it was planted to when it was sold at a local dispensary. Through the relatonship, Microsoft became one of the first major tech companies to affiliate its name with the cannabis industry.

Now two years later, Kind’s software is being used by the state of Rhode Island and by hundreds of companies in states with legal marijuana across the United States, as well as in Canada, Australia, and Jamaica. And Kind Financial is gearing up to introduce a new product: Kind Pay.

“We hope Kind Pay will be the PayPal for the cannabis industry,” says Kind founder and CEO David Dinenberg. An obvious next step for the company, the service will enable credit-card transactions in states where marijuana is legal. Accepting plastic is currently a problem for the legal-cannabis business: The drug is still illegal at a federal level, leaving banks unwilling to work with the industry.

“We’re going to be bringing a phone-based payment system,” says Dinenberg. “Very similar to your Starbucks app or your Dunkin’ Donuts app or any of those retailer rewards-payment mechanisms.” That payment system will arrive first in Canada, but the U.S. likely won’t be far behind, he adds. Kind is partnering with Link to Banking, a consulting and technology company for the cannabis industry run by former bankers and ex-federal regulators.

Growth of an industry

Kind Pay is powered, like Kind’s other tools, by Microsoft’s Azure, and will work alongside them. “In other industries, it’s called track and trade,” says Dinenberg. “In the cannabis space, it’s called seed-to-sale.” The company’s software monitors the growth and harvesting of plants using attached RFID sensors. When the final product arrives at a local dispensary, Kind’s point-of-sale module can identify shoppers using biometrics or state-issued medical ID cards. Overall, the company can provide up-to-date information about what’s being grown where in a state, where it’s being sold, and who’s buying it.

The legal cannabis industry is changing rapidly: Just since Kind and Microsoft announced their collaboration in 2016, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada have all legalized marijuana sales. “You have to be very nimble,” says Dinenberg. “I think the fact that we’re built from the ground up and we’re partners with Microsoft is a huge advantage.” For instance, when a local government enacts a new piece of legislation that impacts the marijuana industry, Kind can roll out relevant changes to its tools quickly and efficiently.

Beyond the technical benefits of building on top of Azure infrastructure, Dinenberg says that the number-one thing partnering with Microsoft did was provide credibility. Thanks to the vast amount of business the software giant already does with government agencies, Kind gets better access to prospective customers.

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