When your crime is no longer a crime, should it still be on your record and count against you? Not according to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan who announced last week that her city would begin vacating all misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions that occurred before the State of Washington legalized marijuana in 2012. At a press conference last week, Seattle’s mayor spoke about the harsh collateral consequences of misdemeanor charges even after a person has finished serving their sentence. These consequences often have the most damaging, long lasting effects on the most vulnerable populations in the city. Misdemeanor convictions can be a barrier to getting housing, loans, or jobs. Many jobs require applicants to disclose any criminal record, including misdemeanors. Marijuana possession misdemeanors can also prevent acceptance into higher education institutions and student loans. Once a person’s misdemeanor charge has been vacated or dismissed, those applying for jobs or trying to rent an apartment can check that they do not have a record of conviction.
The numbers involved are not small. Seattle’s City Attorney estimates that more than 500 convictions will be dismissed from court records. Statistics provided by the Drug Policy Alliance show that marijuana possession arrests rose dramatically in Washington between 1986 and 2010, totaling some 240,000. Seattle’s mayor said dismissing these convictions is a necessary step to correct the injustices that came from a failed war on drugs that disproportionately impacted poor communities of color, not just in Seattle, but nationwide.
Many misdemeanor possession charges can be expunged if certain requirements are met. Usually, the individual has to wait a certain amount of years, have no additional convictions, and apply with the court. The application process can be lengthy and expensive, making it unrealistic for many people. However, if Seattle’s plan proceeds, individuals will not have to ask the court to consider vacating their conviction. Each conviction will automatically be reviewed.
Ohio legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2016. However, the use of recreational marijuana is still illegal. While at least 9 states have laws expunging certain types of marijuana convictions, the majority of these new laws only apply to misdemeanor convictions. Few states or cities have moved to address felony marijuana convictions. Felony marijuana convictions can be more complicated than simple possession misdemeanors and will present unique challenges to law makers and city officials hoping to address the changes in drug laws. In Ohio, possessing less than 200 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense. However, and this is important to understand, selling marijuana, even in small amounts, i.e. 20-30 grams, is still a felony offense. This creates a rather strange scenario in which the person possessing the marijuana is charged with a minor misdemeanor (punishable with a $100 fine) while the seller could be charged with a felony of the fifth degree, i.e. trafficking in marijuana.
If you need a lawyer for a criminal or Federal case, call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards (614-309-0243) who has over 25 years experience representing clients in these legal matters.