By Beth Verge
ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – House Bill 316, introduced in Juneau Wednesday by Democratic Rep. Harriet Drummond of Anchorage, seeks to seal public records related to certain marijuana charges.
“This piece of the law was overlooked by the drafters of the initiative,” Rep. Drummond said Thursday. “And it’s been included in voter initiatives and laws that have passed in other states.”
The bill states, in part, that “A person convicted in this state before February 24, 2015, of possession of a schedule VIA controlled substance for conduct that does not require a license and would otherwise be legal if committed on or after February 24, 2015, may submit a written request … asking the agency to seal that information about the person.”
HB 316 also says agencies shall grant those requests if the conviction wouldn’t require a license and would otherwise be legal if committed on or after Feb. 24, 2015, the date marijuana possession became legal in Alaska.
“This is really a cleanup of the marijuana voter initiative,” Drummond said.
Supporters of the bill have said it will help make it easier for people to overcome the black marks on their records and remove extra roadblocks catalyzed by the charges when it comes to getting a job or finding housing.
“I think we need to move more toward normalization with cannabis in society,” said Cary Carrigan of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. “I don’t think people need to have this kind of stigma follow them around for small mistakes.”
But not everyone is for the bill: In other states where similar laws have been proposed, top officials have decried attempts at wiping past marijuana convictions.
“It creates a horrible precedent by retrofitting criminal sanctions for past conduct every time a new law is changed or passed,” Carolyn Tyler, a spokeswoman for the State of Colorado Attorney General’s office, said in an e-mail to The Denver Post in 2014.
Other states have also blocked comparable bills, with opponents fearing it would force judges to let those who break the law off the hook.
Proponents in Alaska, though, don’t see it that way.
“People really need to have a way, when something is not illegal that they’ve been punished for and done their time,” Carrigan said, “they need to have a way to get that to be behind them.”
House Bill 316 also calls for the Alaska CourtView system to be wiped clean of the marijuana misdemeanors. The primary reason being, according to Drummond’s press release, “to protect the ability for Alaskans to go to work despite past convictions for marijuana possession.”
“We need to have this conversation,” Drummond said. “I would hope the Legislature would see fit to pass this and make sure everybody’s constituents are cleared to make a living.”
Communities in the United States, such as San Francisco, are allowing people whose past crimes would now not be penalized in the same way to petition convictions. This is also in order to have them overturned or reduced from felony to misdemeanor levels and comes after the passing of laws similar to the one proposed, though HB 316 would not be as severe.