Vermont promises to expunge marijuana convictions

Published Oct 19, 2020 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Ivan-balvan

History was made in the home state of Senator Bernie Sanders in 2018 when Vermont became the first state to legalize recreational dispensaries for cannabis with the legislature's aid. However, lawmakers were negligent in completing the marijuana reform because they forgot to create a legal and regulated cannabis market. Over the past two years we have seen the state prohibit marijuana sales, but Bernie's state residents can now consume cannabis without fear of a criminal penalty.

Positive changes

The Governor of Vermont, Phil Scot, initiated a change in October by allowing a bill to legalize recreational cannabis sales legal without his signature. The governor took marijuana reform further and signed separate legislation that would expunge prior cannabis-related records statewide. When enacted in 2021, it will ensure that those with simple cannabis possession convictions can legally deny these convictions in license, employment, and civil rights applications. This would result in many people receiving notification that their criminal record expungement has been processed.

Bill 234

This bill establishes a process where people who have marijuana-related convictions up to two ounces of dried cannabis and the cultivation of up to four plants would have their convictions reviewed and expunged automatically. Certain marijuana offences, like the possession of more than one ounce of cannabis but less than two ounces and three plants' cultivation, would now be subjected to a civil fine.

The courts would have a time frame of the end of next year by which all eligible criminal records would have to be expunged. It is estimated that this bill will benefit as many as 10,000 Vermonters. Carly Wolf, NORML State Policies Coordinator, urged the passing of this bill to ensure that minor offenders will no longer be disenfranchised or stigmatized by the consequences of having a criminal record for engaging in activities that today, are not considered to be a crime.

Hip hip hooray!

Senator Bernie Sanders expressed his gratitude for his state's residents, who will soon have legal and safe marijuana product access. He congratulated the state legislature for announcing Vermont as the eleventh state in the United States to legalize cannabis and for further expunging past cannabis charges. Bernie is now adamant that the time has come for the government to end the War on Drugs and do the right thing, legalize the green herb nationwide. Bernie believes that as each state addresses the legalization of cannabis, the federal government should follow suit and do the same thing.

Final words

Matt Simon is gratified to see the House and Senate finally come together to support automatic expungement for cannabis records. Simon believes that the legislature did a fantastic job of legalizing cannabis in 2018. Still, the New England Marijuana Policy Project director believes that, until criminal records are expunged, and an equitable cannabis market is set in place, prohibition will not be over completely. November 3, 2020, which is the date of the U.S. presidential election, is fast approaching. Could this be the year that cannabis is finally made a legal commodity for all living in the United States of America?

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