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Washington, D.C. Council Allows Marijuana Conviction Records to be Sealed
D.C. Council Approves Easy Sealing
Of Marijuana Possession Convictions
by Tom Ramstack
The D.C. Council last week created an opportunity for lawyers to get the criminal records of thousands of their clients sealed if they were convicted of possessing marijuana.
Council members said their bill to make it easy to seal the conviction records updates outdated marijuana laws.
“If we are going to decriminalize or legalize marijuana under the guise of social justice, we have to allow people who are disproportionately impacted by the old laws to go back to living their lives without consequence or stigma,” said Council member David Grosso, who introduced the bill known as Initiative 71.
Washington, D.C. voters are scheduled to vote next month whether to legalize possession of as much as two ounces of marijuana. Recent popular opinion polls show the ballot measure is likely to be approved.
The bill allowing for easy sealing of criminal records on marijuana possession would be the nation’s most liberal. Most states require at least a two-year waiting period before the records could be sealed. The D.C. bill requires no waiting period.
Judges would be required to grant the petitions if the petitioners have no other criminal convictions and meet other standards in the bill. The burden of proof to show why a motion to seal should not be granted would lie with the judge.
Earlier this year, the D.C. Council decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Anyone police catch with no more than one ounce of marijuana could be fined only $25, making it one of the most lenient laws in the United States.
"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 Malik Burnett, D.C. Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy organization for marijuana legalization. "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."
The bill approved unanimously by the D.C. Council is titled the Record Sealing for Decriminalized and Legalized Offenses Act of 2014 (Council Bill #20-467). Opponents of marijuana legalization did not oppose it strongly.