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Don’t Smoke the Messenger: Oregon Starts Process of Sealing Marijuana Records

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When the OLCC come to Southern Oregon University for its listening session, one of the final speakers to address the panel looked positively terrified as he approached the mic.

“I’m concerned about whether criminadon't smoke.ail records will make it harder or make it so people can’t pass through the licensing,” he said, (paraphrased because six months ago). “There’s a lot of us that want to move into the legal market, and I don’t think it would be fair to lock out the pioneers of this industry.”

Hearing what he had to say it was easy to understand his hesitance to speak. Even with legality pending, many folks had been burned by the system, and as bad as they wanted a legal market where they could just go about their business, and focus their concern on the rigors of farming instead of whether or not their phone was being tapped, their lizard brain was telling them to keep their head down.

Criminal records that lock people not just out of joining the legal marijuana trade but all sorts of other jobs are one of the most enduring stains of the failed drug war. Even minor marijuana infractions can make students ineligible for financial aid, lock people out of joining programs like Teach for America or The Peace Corps, and show up on background checks for many jobs, or even applications for apartments. Some violations can even lock people out of the democratic process by costing them their right to vote, which some scholars believe was the original intent of marijuana prohibition; an attempt to prune the voter base by Nixon to benefit his re-election.

Thankfully, it appears that Oregon is taking steps to address those sorts of concerns.

“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,” Jenny M. Roberts, a professor of law at American University in Washington, D.C., who specializes in criminal law and sentencing, told the New York Times on Sept. 20.

The Times piece told the story of a Portland woman getting her record sealed after handing a bong to an undercover officer more than a decade ago, and her tremendous relief at being able to do so. The Times also wrote that more serious felony convictions may be eligible for record sealing starting next year.

As with all things government, there’s no shortage of paperwork that will be required and hoops that will require jumping through.

But if done properly—and we’ll reserve judgment on that for some time—this could be an example of Oregon not just leading the way on marijuana legalization, but on how to do it right.

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