During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers in Denver will have to make many difficult decisions on a range of complicated issues facing our state.
Whether to allow people convicted of marijuana-related charges prior to the drug’s legalization to have those records automatically erased shouldn’t be one of them.
There already is a law on the books that allows people who were convicted of marijuana-related crimes prior to Dec. 10, 2012, to apply to get those records wiped clean. But applying isn’t necessarily an easy process. There are filing fees. And it takes time and a bit of persistence to navigate through the legal system to get that done.
If record expungements were automatic, then people convicted under those circumstances wouldn’t have to go through all of that.
This is no small matter. People with convictions on their records face difficulties getting jobs, housing and even documentation needed to travel. They might not even think that the misdemeanor conviction they had for possession of a small amount of pot 20 years ago could be an issue until a potential employer is doing candidate screening. At that point, it’s too late for them to take corrective action.
To be clear, what we’re talking about here aren’t crimes that remain illegal under current law. People convicted on other types of drug charges wouldn’t get a pass. Neither would people who were convicted of other crimes while in possession of marijuana.
Some people will argue that people should be punished for the crime of possessing or using marijuana while it was still a crime. Fair enough. But in most cases, those people have been punished already. They’ve done prison time, paid fines and otherwise met the conditions of their court-ordered sentences.
Yet the taint on their records continues to haunt them, long after they have supposedly paid their debts to society.
One hundred years ago, it was illegal to possess or drink alcohol in the United States. However, that law was repealed, and few people today cast judgments against people who drink alcohol responsibly. Looking back with some historical perspective, Prohibition seems ridiculously wrong headed.
In another 100 years, marijuana may enjoy the widespread acceptance within society that alcoholic beverages have today. We seem to be headed in that direction already, slightly more than seven years after Colorado voters decided to legalize the drug.
It’s true that there could be some administrative expenses associated with purging all of those past marijuana convictions from government databases. The question becomes: Who should bear those costs? The people convicted of crimes that are no longer crimes or the government that is supposed to protect them from unnecessary harm?
We argue that it is the latter. Using some of the tax revenue collected on marijuana sales would be one way to defray those expenses. Those expenses wouldn’t be recurring, by the way, since we’re only talking about conviction records from 2012 and before.
There will be many marijuana-related bills proposed and considered during this legislative session. A bill that would make records expungement automatic seems like a common sense step for our legislators to take.