D.C. Council Votes to Strengthen Record Sealing Laws for People With Marijuana Arrests

The Washington D.C. Council has voted unanimously to strengthen record sealing laws to help citizens in the nation’s capital move past marijuana infractions from their past. The Council is expected to take a second vote on the new system later in October (D.C. law requires the Council to vote twice on a bill), after which the bill will go to Mayor Vincent Gray for his approval.

“For the thousands of D.C. residents who are suffering the life-altering consequences of having a marijuana possession charge on their record, this legislation should help provide relief,” said Dr. Malik Burnett of the Drug Policy Alliance.

The DPA released a statement on the subject earlier this week:

The Record Sealing for Decriminalized and Legalized Offenses Act of 2014 (Council Bill #20-467) would improve the record sealing process for individuals previously arrested, charged, or convicted of an offense that has since been decriminalized or legalized, including records pertaining to marijuana possession. This legislation would speed up government review and decision making on motions to seal criminal records, place important limits on government discretion to deny a record sealing motion, and provide more certainty that a motion to seal certain qualified records will be honored by the government within a certain time frame.

The nation’s capital made waves earlier this year when the city voted to decriminalize cannabis possession, and citizens will be voting this November on Initiative 71, which sets out to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. Since decriminalization took effect July 17, however, reports show that 77% of all marijuana-related tickets were written in neighborhoods home to primarily people of color. This troubling statistic demonstrates that there is still a gross disparity in marijuana enforcement between races, despite decriminalization, thus emphasizing the need for further political action in this direction.

“Initiative 71 will take D.C. another step toward removing marijuana from the criminal justice system and refocusing police priorities on more serious crime,” said Dr. Burnett. “The District has the opportunity to serve as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”



Photo Credit: Ed Uthman

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