Old pot conviction messing with your life? There’s a bill for that.

By: - March 20, 2019 6:07 am

From left to right, Steve Yeager, Ozzie Fumo, William McCurdy and Daniele Monroe-Moreno at a forum on justice reform March 16. (Photo: Michael Lyle)

Legal recreational marijuana in Nevada has created a new class of people with marijuana convictions who have difficulties finding work because of criminal records. 

Right now, they can attend workshops put on by legal aid groups hoping to receive free assistance with sealing their records, but the process is lengthy, costly and difficult, according to Bailey Bortolin, the policy director with the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers.

Assembly Bill 192, or what the sponsor, Assemblyman William McCurdy, calls the Nevada Second Chance Act, seeks to streamline the process by automatically sealing criminal records when certain crimes are decriminalized.

“It is the right thing to do,” McCurdy said during an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill Tuesday. Making the process easier, he added, would open up job prospects for people with marijuana convictions.

In many states where cannabis has become legal for recreational use, laws have been enacted to streamline the record sealing process, said Holly Welborn, the policy director with the ACLU of Nevada.

Nevada isn’t one of them.

McCurdy, speaking to a forum at the Pearson Community Center March 16, said he tried to pass legislation in 2017 allowing people to petition the court to vacate and seal court records, but it was vetoed by former Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“But we have Gov. (Steve) Sisolak now who has also noticed that this is a problem,” McCurdy said. “So elections do matter.”

The new bill would allow people to fill out a standardized form and submit their request to the court following the decriminalization of certain crimes.

If the prosecuting attorney connected to the case has an objection to the request to seal the record, the applicant has 10 days to respond. The burden of proof to show a reason why the application should be rejected is on them.

Welborn said they are working with the Nevada District Attorneys Association about what circumstances might limit the record sealing process. Law enforcement officials said, as an example, if the decriminalized act was connected to other felonies, the record wouldn’t be able to be sealed. 

Because the process normally costs hundreds of dollars, Welborn said people often can’t afford it. The legislation would waive those fees.

Ultimately, Welborn added, the bill would “dismantle barriers people face when sealing their records”

AB192 received a mostly friendly reception during its first hearing, with support from  the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the District Attorneys Association.

Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards worried the bill would “put businesses in a bind” if they aren’t able to see past convictions. “Sealing records puts a lot of businesses at risk when it comes to hiring people,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ve put enough thought into what we’re accomplishing.”

Although legal recreational marijuana brings the legislation into sharp relief, the bill doesn’t specifically focus on pot convictions. If any other activity is decriminalized in the future, the record sealing process could apply unless the decriminalization legislation explicitly says otherwise.

Making the language more broad, McCurdy said, would prevent people from having to wait for future legislatures to take action.

Proposed legislation yet to be introduced would convert traffic infractions from criminal to civil. Lawmakers were unsure if that means those with criminal traffic violations on people’s records would be sealed as well.

While traffic offenses are misdemeanors that won’t appear on background checks, Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo said they can still affect people when they are applying for colleges, such as medical school, or certain positions that require them to disclose their records.

“We haven’t decriminalized (traffic tickets) yet,” said Assemblyman Steve Yeager. “The bill isn’t out yet, but there can be discussion on how these two bills will interplay.”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.