Now that Maine has enjoyed a little over two years of legal weed, it seems only fair to stop punishing the folks busted for it during the prohibition.
Fortunately, three Maine state representatives and one state senator are working on official pardons.
Last month, Rep. Richard Farnsworth (D-Orono) and Sen. James Dill (D-Penobscot) proposed bills that would permanently delete the records of all prior non-violent misdemeanor cannabis convictions by July 1, 2020, and Rep. Justin Fecteau (R-Augusta) and Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) proposed bills that would “seal them away,” meaning the convictions would stay on record, but employers or members of the public couldn’t see them.
Rep. Fecteau told the Phoenix that he prefers a seal away approach because it doesn’t “alienate folks in law-enforcement” who might need access to information on prior convictions, while also easing the burden for people who unable to secure employment.
“It’s not so much a marijuana issue as it is a criminal justice issue,” said first-term legislator Fecteau. “We still have unfilled job positions in Maine, and this bill would help people get employment without being turned down simply because of a past marijuana conviction.”
Fecteau said that it’s unclear if his bill would gain the support of his fellow Republicans, but said there’s “generally an appetite” for some sort of reform. “I think it would gain generic support on both sides of the aisle, but without the language of the bill written, it’s hard to say how popular or unpopular it would be,” he said.
Sen. Dill's bill calls for a complete expungement of records of acts that are legal now because even in states with legal cannabis past transgressions can hold people back, often impacting their ability to secure a job or housing due to strict background checks.
"Those records stay there forever," said Sen. Dill. "I know of people who received convictions when they were 18-20 or so and are now suffering 20-30 years later for perhaps not a very serious crime."
Sen. Dill anticipates opposition from his bill to come from legislators who believe that Mainers must live with the consequences of their actions, and those that say its too costly to search records and identify who would be eligible for expungement.
It’s unclear how many Mainers would be eligible to have their records cleaned under these bills. Data requests to the Department of Public Safety were not returned, and it’s possible that officials there are still working with the Bureau of State Police and the State Bureau of Identification to compile these records. Additional state resources may be required to identify everyone with prior cannabis convictions.
All four of these bills are each about two weeks away from being drafted, and then the process of finding co-sponsors begins. The Maine State Legislature currently has some 2100 bills to deliberate over this session. More than 25 of them are cannabis-related.
In other words, it’s going to be a very long time — assuming one of these bills crosses the finish line — before Mainers with petty pot offenses get their records clean. But at least the process has started.
Several states, including Oregon, Maryland, California, and Massachusetts have some kind of cannabis-conviction amnesty bill already in the books; and Washington state is nearly there. According to the Seattle Times, Washington state Governor Jay Insell announced last month that about 3,500 people would be eligible to fill out a petition online and receive a pardon for past cannabis convictions.