Senate Bill Would Expunge Past Marijuana Offenses

By Anjali Shastry and Katelyn Newman

ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 19, 2015)—A bill to remove convictions for marijuana use or possession of less than 10 grams from criminal records received a lukewarm response from the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Thursday.

Sponsored by Senator Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, the bill aims to help people who were convicted for using or possessing marijuana before it was decriminalized on Oct. 1. Now that it is no longer a crime, Feldman said, these records should be expunged.

“We shouldn’t have folks, particularly younger folks, prejudiced,” Feldman said. “This is real-world stuff and it just seems incongruent to have on the books prospectively that this is no longer a crime and yet have thousands of young Marylanders hampered with this criminal record.”

If the bill passes, there will be both revenue for and costs to the state as people pay to get their records cleaned and the courts pay employees to go through the requests, but exact costs are not available, Feldman said.

Because law enforcement officers did not take into account how much marijuana was on the person arrested before the 10-gram decriminalization bill passed last year, Feldman said, they do not know how many people would be affected by his bill’s passing.

Feldman acknowledged law enforcement concerns that removing these marijuana convictions from records would take away necessary background information for firearms checks, among other things.

“I’d be willing to offer an amendment to shift it from an outright expunging all records to shielding,” Feldman said. By shielding instead of expunging records, Feldman said, law enforcement officials would still have access to to the records, but employers would not.

The bill would assist people who have marijuana convictions on their record with finding employment, education, scholarships and housing, he said.

The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association in written testimony said they oppose Feldman’s bill.

“It could interfere with the necessary access to prior criminal information,” the association said. “In some instances, this could be a safety factor for law enforcement personnel in carrying out their official duties.”

The association members said they think input from the judiciary, prosecutors and law enforcement would enable all stakeholders to address the situation without affecting public safety.

Rachelle Yeung, the Maryland political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said she supports Feldman’s bill.

“Unfortunately, everyone who was arrested prior to October 1st, including and up to September 30th, won’t have the same opportunities that people after October 1st will,” Yeung said. “We support this bill because it puts people who have been charged with low-level marijuana possession in the past on the same footing as their peers moving forward.”

Feldman’s bill is cross-filed in the House, in a measure sponsored by Delegate Aruna Miller, D-Montgomery.

Three other bills specifically involving the use and possession of marijuana have been introduced in the Senate this legislative session. Senator Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring a bill to fully legalize marijuana, in the style of Colorado’s law, taking away certain restrictions on marijuana sales and creating a revenue stream for the state. Senator Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is sponsoring two of the bills—one related to the possession of marijuana paraphernalia, and one related to medical marijuana.

At press time, the committee was still hearing four other bills on expunging records, one filed by Raskin, two by Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, and one filed by Senator Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore.

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