Oregon Will Expunge Past Marijuana Offenses Under New Law

By May Wilkerson 09/28/15

Oregon has been known for its progressive marijuana laws.

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Known for its progressive marijuana legislation, Oregon will become the first state in the country to expunge marijuana busts from its citizens’ records.

In 1973, Oregon was the first state in the country to decriminalize low-scale marijuana possession. It was the third in the country, following Colorado and Washington, to legalize recreational marijuana, passing the amendment last November. Now legal experts and marijuana business people say the state is leading the way in creating new laws that would allow people with past marijuana offenses to wipe their slates clean.

“Oregon is one of the first states to really grapple with the issue of what do you do with a record of something that used to be a crime and no longer is,” said Jenny M. Roberts, a law professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

Erika Walton, 43, tells the Times about how her minor citation for marijuana possession 15 years ago was “haunting” her ever since, despite her otherwise clean record. Anytime she applied for an apartment, job, or a school volunteer position, she had to disclose the past fine for what was a low-level misdemeanor, even at the time. “It’s taken away a lot of my life,” she said.

Ms. Walton worked with Metropolitan Public Defender Services, a private nonprofit law firm. They helped her to “seal” her record, using a new state law that allows people with a lowest-level felony, misdemeanor or non-traffic violation to expunge their records if a decade or longer has gone by without another conviction.

The law is not restricted to drug offenses. A second law allows faster expungement for people who were under 21 at the time of a past conviction. In the future, more serious offenses, like selling or growing marijuana, may also become eligible for expungement.

“What was on her record ended up hurting her even though it had been decriminalized,” said Alex Bassos, director of training and outreach at Metropolitan Public Defender. “Now it’s legal, and the same actions wouldn’t be stigmatized at all.” Bassos now runs a weekly “expungement clinic” in the firm’s Portland office to help people like Walton remove past citations from their records.

Colorado, Alaska, Washington, and the District of Columbia may want to take a cue from Oregon. These states and the district have also legalized recreational marijuana, but have yet to pass this type of legislation to help people with past offenses.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.