In November 2016, the voters of Maine narrowly approved a ballot question legalizing the production and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. Since then, clashes between the now-former governor's office and the legislature have delayed the implementation of a legal cannabis market. Some lawmakers have grappled with questions stemming from the legalization of a substance that previously generated many convictions, before and even after the state's 2009 decriminalization efforts.
Lawmakers are asking how to fairly address those with marijuana charges on their records which can prove to be a hindrance for employment, housing, and other benefits. Two proposals have arisen.
One calls for the complete expungement of records of civil crimes such as basic marijuana possession. This process would result in the permanent removal of these charges from the public record. The other bill calls for putting the records under seal. Sealed records do not show up in criminal history reports, such as the US OneSEARCH by backgroundchecks.com, but are still in the system and may be seen and accessed by some in the justice system.
Critics point out that under Maine law, expungement is not technically legal; there is no mechanism for expungements of any criminal records; they claim such a proposal would be a usurpation of the courts. Proponents of expungement contend that sealed records could be unsealed in the future, such as in the case of a reversal of legislation on marijuana.
Either scenario would render records functionally invisible to employers, landlords, and others who typically request background checks before engaging in business with someone. Legislators have yet to decide if the process would be automatic or if individuals would need to apply to have their records removed from public view.
The fate of both proposals is unknown—the bills remain in committee with further talks scheduled.
Maine is not the only state to consider remedies for individuals convicted on marijuana-related charges. Municipalities such as Denver, Colorado have taken steps to provide a pathway to expungement, reasoning that individuals should not continue to suffer consequences from an activity that is now fully legal.
backgroundchecks.com reminds employers that past convictions do not necessarily indicate current or future drug use or other inclinations. For those living in states with legalized marijuana, sealing or expunging old records may help to open doors. Through our partner MyClearStart, individuals can explore their options and determine their eligibility for their state's record expungement process, including connecting with qualified legal help. As Maine continues to grapple with the issue of expungement, residents in other states can seek new opportunities for a “clear start” today.