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State Considers Amendment To Expunge Marijuana Offenses

Oregonians convicted or arrested for marijuana offenses could have their records expunged this year if a recent amendment in the Oregon Legislature passes. Dense and lengthy House Bill 3400 is the Legislature’s catch-all bill for regulating Oregon’s burgeoning recreational pot industry and aligning it with the state’s already legal medical marijuana commerce and production. 

An amendment to the bill, proposed in late May by Democratic Rep. Ann Lininger, offers people who were on the wrong side of soon-to-be dead pot prohibition a way to clean their criminal records. 

“Essentially the amendment is about crime-sentence reduction and eligibility for expungement,” says Lininger, who has been working long days with the rest of the Joint Committee on Measure 91 Implementation. 

The law wouldn’t automatically clean everyone’s slate: The amendment proposes a process that includes a filing fee, court statements and a judge ruling, but if successful, “the applicant … shall be deemed not to have been previously convicted, or arrested ... and the court shall issue an order sealing the record of conviction and other official records in the case.”

“There is a lot of momentum to pass a marijuana bill,” says Dominic Lopez, a volunteer with progressive political nonprofit the Bus Project, which has been organizing for the amendment and previously for HB 3372 as part of its #FreshStartOregon campaign. 

Lopez also worked extensively with the Yes on Measure 91 campaign in November.  

“We’re looking at people who are punished for breaking laws that are no longer laws anymore,” Lopez says. “That sounds like a really horrible excuse to ruin people’s lives. They’ve had their lives devastated because of felony convictions.”

The law wouldn’t apply to Class A felony convictions, but to B felonies, misdemeanors and arrests. Class B felonies can bring 10 years in jail, a $250,000 fine and are on par with money laundering, the Bend Bulletin points out. The Bulletin came out against the amendment shortly after it was introduced, arguing in an editorial, “There’s something unsettling about the idea of simply wiping out a person’s criminal record with the stroke of a pen.” 

Hogwash, contends Peter Zuckerman, the former communications director for Yes on 91. “It doesn’t make sense to punish people for possessing a substance that will be legal in a few weeks,” Zuckerman says. He points out the convictions are unevenly distributed across society. “People of color, according to the ACLU, are twice as likely to be arrested or cited for marijuana. That’s morally reprehensible.” 

According to #FreshStartOregon, also citing the American Civil Liberties Union, black Oregonians are 2.1 times more likely to be arrested for pot than white Oregonians, and three times more likely in Multnomah and Lane counties.