Lawmakers in Rhode Island have introduced bills aimed at expunging criminal records related to possession of cannabis and other drugs, the Providence Journal reports. One measure (H7412) would automatically expunge cannabis crimes that are now legal under the state’s decriminalization policies, while the other (H7901) would seal simple possession charges for all controlled substances five years after the completion of the sentence and waive the court fee associated with expunging records.
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, State Rep. Anastasia Williams (D) called the cannabis crime expungement measure “self-explanatory.” She pointed out that drug laws disproportionately targeted minorities and perpetuated the cycle of poverty and that people with cannabis-related criminal records – especially minorities – have trouble finding jobs and houses.
“Marijuana, medical or not, is a booming industry, and individuals are going to capitalize more on it soon with the additional six [medical cannabis dispensary] licenses. And just imagine when recreational marijuana becomes legal. So just think for a minute about the individuals who are still incarcerated [or who] have spent time in jail for possession, selling, using, carrying marijuana. …Their sentence doesn’t end when they are released.” – Williams, 2/11/20 House Judiciary Committee Meeting, via the Journal
The bill sponsored by Rep. Jason Knight (D) would expunge charges after five years “for any person convicted of an offense constituting simple possession of a controlled substance,” according to the bill text. The state already allows for broad expungement of some non-violent crimes under its ‘First-Time Offender’ program.
“The reason why I put it in is because I think we have changing attitudes around controlled substances.” Said Knight, a criminal defense attorney, to the Journal. “No one I know believes that it is a moral failing to get charged with possession of a controlled substance.”
Attorney General Peter Neronha’s Legislative Lobbyist indicated the AG “is conceptually in support″ of Knight’s bill.
Rhode Island legalized medical cannabis in 2006, the 11th state to do so. In January, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo called for state-wide legalization. Some lawmakers were optimistic that the state was going to pass the reforms last year but the legislature didn’t take any action on the issue.
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