Originally published in the Anchorage Press.
Alaskans who were caught in possession of marijuana prior to legalization could see relief from the court system this year. Anchorage state Rep. Harriet Drummond’s House Bill 316 has to first pass the Legislature, however. And Gov. Bill Walker must sign the bill into law.
Drumond introduced HB 316, Jan. 31, in an effort help seal public documents relating to marijuana possession convictions prior to Feb. 24, 2015, when marijuana was legalized in Alaska. On Feb. 28 the bill was referred to the House Finance Committee.
“There are lots of folks in Alaska who did something dumb, and they have simple possession convictions that show up on their record. A prospective employer might look them up on Courtview,” Drummond said. “You know, mom and dads, neighbors and friends who made a mistake in their past, or were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time have had to deal with this barrier that has the potential to keep them from a better life.”
HB 316 wouldn’t expunge any marijuana possession conviction, but only seal it from the public. Law enforcement would continue to have records.
Drummond said this bill was inspired by other states who have legalized marijuana, and addresses convictions that were once illegal in the past, and now completely legal.
“They really have done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law as of 2015,” Drummond said. “Other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have included this sealing of records for simple possession along with their establishment of the marijuana laws in the first place.”
The governor of Vermont expunged marijuana convictions from the records of 192 people, in 2017. The record cleanse was only available to people who applied for a pardon, had no violent criminal history and those who had not been found guilty of a DUI or a DWI.
Legislative Research Services, a nonpartisan researcher for the legislature, found that from 2007-2017, 719 people were convicted of marijuana possession.
On Feb. 26, the Court System says that the bill will cost little to implement. It “will require some staff time for administrators to revise the CourtView parameters and electronically designate the files as confidential, but are able to absorb that task in the normal course of business.”
The first fiscal note included with the bill found that implementation of the sealing of public records could cost approximately $100,000.
A citizen, should it past, with a conviction for a marijuana possession will have to ask for their records to be sealed from public access. Members of the legislature have expressed concern that thousands will request sealing, Drummond said.
If that is the case, an additional criminal justice specialist position would need to be hired to balance workload, which will roughly cost $100,000 a year.