Oregon is taking measures to ensure that citizens with marijuana charges on their records can go forward with a clean slate. The new rules are being applied in the wake of the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state, and could prove to be a model for other states in how to help those who are still being penalized for possession of a now-legal substance.
The legalization of recreational marijuana was passed by an Oregon state ballot in November 2014. Starting Oct. 1, people who are 21 and older will be able to legally purchase marijuana at dispensaries, KTVZ reports.
While retail marijuana shops won’t be opening until 2016, the people of Oregon will be able to buy pot at medical marijuana dispensaries, regardless of whether they need it for medical purposes.
While possessing marijuana will no longer be illegal for adults over 21, securing employment and benefits are still difficult for those with prior convictions. Ironically, what is now legal will still haunt their records. The state is implementing new rules to combat this problem, allowing citizens to expunge marijuana convictions from their records.
The New York Times reports that Erika Walton, a woman who was convicted for unknowingly passing a bong to a police officer more than 15 years ago, has faced difficulties in getting a job and volunteering at her children’s school. She has always had to disclose the charge on applications and it has barred her from many opportunities.
“What was on her record ended up hurting her even though it had been decriminalized,” says Alex Bassos, the director of Metropolitan Public Defender’s training and outreach program. “Now it’s legal, and the same actions wouldn’t be stigmatized at all.”
With the new rules, Walton will be able to have the infraction sealed and will no longer have to disclose it on applications.
“Oregon is one of the first states to really grapple with the issue of what do you do with a record of something that used to be a crime and no longer is,” says American University professor Jenny M. Roberts.
Oregon courts are now required to use the now-legal status of marijuana to accept applications to have criminal records expunged. Those who received marijuana convictions while they were under 21 will have the process expedited.