In Vermont, the House and Senate are working on legislation that would create a legal marketplace for cannabis in the New England state. They are now considering adding further expunging of cannabis convictions to the legalization package.
Both legislative bodies currently support such a measure and are looking for a way to clear records for offenders who only had two ounces of cannabis or more in their possession. At the same time, they would be decriminalizing up to two ounces, since possession of more than one ounce is still illegal.
“Criminal records are a barrier to employment, serving in the military, student loans, housing, and it’s very important to help folks with these criminal records get justice and clean their records,” said Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, who heads up the House Judiciary Committee. She hopes to move forward with this proposal to help those who have been dealing with prior convictions, particularly people of color who have been especially impacted by the drug war.
“I am totally supportive of making sure that the people who were charged for crimes that are no longer crimes get some sort of justice,” added House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.
“We’ve gotten a lot of emails and other correspondence from people who are saying that the bill, S.54, does nothing to promote social justice,” said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington. “I think it does. But, it would be enhanced if we could pass the marijuana expungement this year.”
While there is already a plan in place to try and prioritize giving licenses to people of color and minorities impacted by the war on drugs once the legal industry is established, many feel that is not enough and also want to see records expunged.
“This bill fails to adequately address the magnitude of the damage or offer any real equitable opportunity for black folks to thrive in this industry,” said Mark Hughes, the executive director of Justice for All, a Vermont racial justice organization,. “Taxation and regulation of cannabis must be directly linked to addressing the harm caused by the ‘War on Drugs’ and ensuring those impacted have opportunities to thrive.”
Crime Research Group reported that based on their data on criminal justice trends in Vermont, pre-decriminalization numbers from 2013 and before showed that about 500 people per year were convicted simply for having two ounces of cannabis or less. Therefore, there is a definite need for expungement.
Based on this information, supporters of expunging records want the process to be quicker and less complicated so that people with criminal records can be cleared from the system and opened up to more opportunities. Currently, anyone looking for an expungement has to apply to the courts, and then the charge has to be verified, which could take some time.
As of this Monday, the Senate claimed they are looking to pass the expungement policy within a few weeks, and the Legislature will then reconvene for a special budget session. If this passes, Vermont will have a very progressive cannabis system in place that helps uplift people of color and other marginalized groups by clearing prior convictions.