Achieving Justice While Legalizing Pot Is A Challenge For Connecticut | Connecticut Public Radio

Achieving Justice While Legalizing Pot Is A Challenge For Connecticut

Apr 2, 2019

Many Connecticut lawmakers have said that if the state legalizes cannabis, it would be only right to expunge the records of state residents who have cannabis-related convictions. But that may be easier said than done.

Because of the way the state keeps court records, it’s not clear which specific substance was involved in a drug conviction. That means cannabis convictions cannot be automatically expunged.

But state senator Gary Winfield told Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live, the legislature is considering a system whereby individuals could petition -- on an honor system -- to have their sentences erased.

“If the person who has a cannabis conviction swears on an affidavit under the penalty of perjury that it was a cannabis conviction, then we’re going to say that that's good enough for us, and the judge must then allow for the expungement,” he said.

California is currently the only state in the nation where expungement of sentences is automatic.

When that state first legalized pot, it also had a system of expungement by petition, similar to the one that Connecticut is considering. But only a fraction of those eligible took advantage of the petitioning system. Critics say it was costly and time-consuming.

Jenny Roberts, professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law said the ramifications of a low-level drug conviction can be far-reaching, for things like employment and housing, particularly now that criminal records are easily accessible online.

"You can be deported for a criminal conviction, for a small marijuana conviction you can lose your access to federal student loans," she said.

Arrest rates for marijuana offenses are disproportionately high in minority communities. Lawmakers say they also intend to create greater access for minority applicants to the economic benefits of legalized pot as part of the "justice package" around legalization.

Senator Gary Winfield said that will be dealt with by a proposed Cannabis Commission, which will consider license applications for dispensaries.

"It's going to have equity applicants, who are going to have a lower entrance fee if you will, who are also going to be able to apply three months before the normal applicants," he said.

Adam Hushin contributed to this report.