Living with a marijuana conviction after legalization (updated)

Jacob Sullum, senior editor at Reason, has written a fabulous article about expungement of marijuana convictions in places that have since legalized marijuana: so far 10 states, DC, and the Northern Mariana Islands have legalized.  The piece is currently available to Reason subscribers and will be available to the public in the coming weeks (we will update this post with the link).

Sullum tells the stories of eleven individuals, from the jurisdictions that have legalized, who describe how their marijuana convictions have impacted their lives before and after legalization.  He documents the lingering legal and social sanctions that burden people long after they have served their sentences, sanctions that “seem especially unjust and irrational in the growing number of U.S. jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.”

The piece explores the varying extent to which states offer forms of relief: from meager in most jurisdictions to generous in California to nearly non-existent in Alaska.  States that allow for expungement often include only people with low-level offenses and “put the onus on prohibition’s victims to seek the sealing or expungement of their criminal records, a process that can be complicated, expensive, and time-consuming.”  Sullum quotes CCRC’s executive director Margaret Love on how difficult it can be to access expungement, and how collateral consequences can function as a system of punishment “that offers no way out, that never ends.”

The eleven profiled individuals are looking for a way out.  They reflect on the experience of living with a record.  Only a few have been eligible to access relief (each state’s record-closing laws are discussed, along with an estimate of the cost and time it takes to expunge a record or receive a pardon).  They describe the barriers and stigma they have experienced in employment, housing, travel, education, and even in efforts to join the legalized marijuana industry (a helpful chart documents how a marijuana conviction can disqualify someone from participating in this burgeoning new sector of the economy).  These stories and accompanying policy analysis show how “people convicted under the old regime continue to suffer for actions that are no longer crimes.”