Great news on the political cannabis front as the Alaska Court System liberates 750 Alaskans from the marijuana possession conviction database. This is a great example for other prevalent states to follow, with further hopes that this new order will include non-violent cannabis offenses. It is also hoped that this will become a nationwide trend.
News reports reveal, “The Alaska Supreme Court amended their policy on removing certain marijuana offenses from Court View. This was in response to a pre-filed bill from Representative Stanley Wright (R – Anchorage).”
What The New Order Entails
An order signed on January 31 will see marijuana possession convictions removed from the state’s online database of court cases on May 1. The ruling by the court’s five justices comes after similar, unsuccessful legislative efforts.
As of May 1, the records will be removed but will still be available for inspection at courthouses or when conducting a formal criminal background check. However, the general public will find difficulty accessing them.
Those freed from the legal chains of their convictions are 21 and older. They possessed an ounce or less of marijuana when convicted, and their conviction is not associated with another crime.
The order document reads, “and (15) cases in which the defendant was convicted of possessing less than one ounce of marijuana under AS 11.71.060, or a prior version of that statute that criminalized the same conduct, or a municipal ordinance that criminalized that same conduct if (A) the defendant was 21 years of age or older at the time of the offense, and (B) the defendant was not convicted of any other criminal charges in that same case.”
Why The Decision To Remove Marijuana Possession Convictions?
The change in ruling emerged from administrative staff and after the justices considered that under standard procedures. It also came after eight years of legalized marijuana in Alaska and at a time deemed appropriate by the Supreme Court. Current times see it inappropriate to have locals suffering negative consequences from having their names posted on Courtview. In the present time and context, this conduct is considered legal.
Negative consequences from having a criminal record include the inability to acquire a job to obtaining housing, as well as public scrutiny and ostracizing. This has negatively affected individuals with livelihoods suffering, finances lacking, and the ability to live a normal life dampened.
This order thus helps to obscure criminal records, which prevents the latter and helps to solve the afflicted’s problem of acquiring housing and employment. According to public opinion, removing these barriers with a simple policy change or rule change can positively and drastically affect their lives.
Measures Taken To Ensure The Rule Change Is Not Reversed
Despite a bipartisan push last year, the state House in Alaska voted 30 to eight to approve a bill that would see the concealment of marijuana convictions from Courtview and criminal background searches. This bill, however, did not pass the Senate before the legislative session ended.
Now, in 2023, considerations on whether the bill is needed or not are underway. In the interim, a law is considered necessary to prevent future reversal by the court of the rule change. While a bill would provide more surety and further reach, alternative efforts are also being made on all fronts to avoid future reversals.
Under Administrative Rule 40, the court system already excludes more than a dozen categories of items. However, it cannot change the rules for criminal background checks. It is hoped to be covered by proposed bills.
Currently, the bill has yet to receive a hearing, but looking back at the past failures of similar bills, not much hope exists for this bill to be passed. Adding to further lack of hope is the fact that the Department of Public Safety will have to examine more than 8 500 cases to see whether or not the bill covers them.
Setting An Example For Other States
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Illinois, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Washington have already passed legislation obscuring marijuana-related convictions. They form part of a total of 41 states which have some form of legislation. It is hoped that Alaska will follow in these states’ footsteps.
And with more states passing similar legislation, it is hoped that, along with the legalization of recreational marijuana cultivation and use, these states will also expunge, seal, or obscure criminal records of those convicted of marijuana-related crimes.
More updates to follow as more news becomes available. However small, this is still a great move for those convicted of a marijuana possession conviction.
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