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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Alaska Supreme Court to clear previous cannabis convictions

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The Alaska Supreme Court will erase the records of about 750 cannabis convictions from a state database in a move to help protect ex-offenders from the negative impact of a criminal record for behavior that is no longer illegal. Under an order signed by the court’s five justices in January, records of past marijuana offenses will be removed from Courtview, the state’s online database of court cases, on May 1.

Court action continues pressure to overturn convictions for cannabis-related offenses in states that have legalized marijuana in an effort to mitigate damages from years of cannabis prohibition and The war on drugs. The order applies to cases where the accused was at least 21 years old and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis was the only charge.

Legislative attempts by lawmakers to remove cannabis convictions from Courtview have so far been unsuccessful, despite bills pending for the current legislative session. The Supreme Court’s action largely achieves the goal, but the new policy does not remove records of cannabis-related convictions from all state databases. Attorney Jana Feltzen said the move is a positive development for cannabis policy reform efforts in Alaska.

“If you’re over 21 and violated simple possession of marijuana — meaning marijuana under an ounce — and you had it on your person, and it wasn’t connected to any other crime, the Alaska Supreme Court says we remove these from Courtview.” Feltzen told local media.

The change originated with the administrative staff and was considered by justices through normal Supreme Court procedures, said Nancy Mead, general counsel for the Alaska court system.

“Since (cannabis) has been legal for eight years, it seemed to the Supreme Court that this was the right time for people not to suffer, I say, the negative consequences that could result from your name being published on Courtview,” Meade said in a statement quote by Alaskan Bacon. “Because the behavior is considered legal at the moment,” she said.

The court order does not affect all conviction records

the decision of the Supreme Court It does not delete previous cannabis convictions from the state’s criminal records, which are maintained by the Alaska Department of Public Safety (DPS). Officials have made it clear that information about these convictions will remain available in courts for public scrutiny and through official background checks.

“The court system is not the official repository of criminal records for the state of Alaska,” Mead said.

Arrest and conviction records can have an impact on former offenders’ ability to secure work and housing. But previous legislative efforts to remove cannabis conviction records from Courtview have not been approved by lawmakers.

“A lot of people in my district, they have these barriers put in place, and a simple change in the rules, a change in policy, a piece of legislation can change them for the rest of their lives,” said Republican Representative Stanley Wright.

Last year, the Alaska House of Representatives approved a bill to hide cannabis convictions from Courtview and criminal background searches by a vote of 30 to 8. But the Senate failed to pass the bill before the end of the 2022 legislative session. A similar bill was introduced to protect cannabis convictions Advance for the 2023 hearing was filed by Wright on January 19, less than two weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision to remove the records from Courtview. Forrest Wolfe, Wright’s chief of staff, said protecting records of cannabis convictions could help mitigate the migration of working-age people into Alaska that has, in part, led to a labor shortage in the state.

“It’s all about reducing barriers to entry, especially in terms of employment,” said Wolf. “In Alaska, we have a huge shortage of the workforce. If you’re 21 or older, and it was some sort of nonviolent offense, you’ve been charged and convicted, and now that cannabis is legal in the state, we don’t think it should reflect negatively on your record.” Wolf added.

Wright is said to be considering whether his bill, which already has bipartisan support from three Democrats and two independent lawmakers, is still needed after the Supreme Court’s order to overturn cannabis convictions from Corteview, while Democratic Sen. Lucky Tobin is said to be considering introducing one. Similar law. Unlike Supreme Court policy, which only covers court records, more comprehensive legislation could also protect information about cannabis convictions from being released through criminal background checks. If the Wright bill passes, as many as 8,500 previous cannabis convictions could be affected and hidden from view, according to information from the DPS.

The Alaska Supreme Court has a history of issuing decisions that protect the rights of cannabis users. In 1975, the Court ruled that the right to privacy guaranteed in the Alaska Constitution protected the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana in private residences, making cannabis legal for personal use.

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