Advocates See Council Effort As Reminder of Marijuana Prohibition’s Costs and Urge Support for Initiative 71
The D.C. Council voted unanimously today in favor of a bill that would improve the process by which a person can seal criminal records pertaining to conduct that has since been decriminalized or legalized. The D.C. Council is expected to take a final vote on the bill in late October and it will then go to Mayor Vincent Gray for his review. (Laws passed by the D.C. Council must be voted on twice.) Advocates are calling this a major step toward acknowledging the stigma and discrimination that people living in the District of Columbia with a marijuana arrest, charge or conviction on their record continue to face.
"This bill builds on the marijuana decriminalization law the Council passed earlier this year," said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For the thousands of D.C. residents who are suffering the life-altering consequences of having a marijuana possession charge on their record, this legislation should help provide relief."
Advocates emphasize that D.C. residents have an important opportunity to make further progress by voting YES on Initiative 71 when it appears on the general election ballot on November 4th.
"Initiative 71 will take D.C. another step toward removing marijuana from the criminal justice system and refocusing police priorities on more serious crime," said Dr. Burnett. "The District has the opportunity to serve as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system."
Advocates are encouraged that Councilmembers are continuing to address harms that have been caused by marijuana prohibition, following the passage of legislation earlier this year that decriminalized marijuana possession by eliminating criminal penalties associated with possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and instituting a civil fine issued in a similar manner to a parking ticket. However, since this decriminalization law took effect on July 17th, statistics from the Metropolitan Police Department, D.C.’s primary law enforcement agency, reveal that 77 percent of all tickets have been written in neighborhoods that are predominantly home to people of color. Advocates point to this finding as a reminder that decriminalization has done little to address the disparities in marijuana enforcement that were the original objective of the legislation.
The Record Sealing for Decriminalized and Legalized Offenses Act of 2014 (Council Bill #20-467) would improve the record sealing process for individuals previously arrested, charged or convicted of an offense that has since been decriminalized or legalized, including records pertaining to marijuana possession. This legislation would speed up government review and decision making on motions to seal criminal records, place important limits on government discretion to deny a record sealing motion, and provide more certainty that a motion to seal certain qualified records will be honored by the government within a certain time frame.