This week, another state took steps to ensure that a marijuana arrest will not mean devastation for the decades to come. Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri signed Senate Bill 588 into law on July 13. The bill expands the list of non-violent and non-sexual felonies and misdemeanors that are eligible to be expunged after a certain length of time, and that list includes multiple different marijuana related charges that could keep otherwise eligible citizens out of jobs as well as safe and clean housing among other benefits.
“Missourians who have paid their debt to society and become law-abiding citizens deserve a chance to get a job and support their families,” Nixon said in a press release. “This bill represents a reasonable, balanced approach and I’m pleased to sign it into law today.”
While this is not as big as decriminalizing or legalizing the herb, it is still a step forward in realizing the detrimental effect that incarceration can have – especially when it comes to youth. Considering marijuana related arrests in Missouri average a total of 21,000 between 2008 and 2012 (around 19,000 being possession charges and only around 2,000 being for sales/trafficking), even if only half of these arrests led to convictions that would still be around 10,000 people each year who will have trouble finding future employment, obtaining loans and securing many other means of living a productive life.
Though the law has already been signed, it will not actually go into effect until January of 2018. At that point, thousands of people whose marijuana convictions are eligible will be able to apply to have their record expunged. For felony offenses at least seven years will need to have passed since the offender successfully completed their sentence, for misdemeanors the minimum will only be three years.
Eligible participants will have to be able to prove that they completed whatever their sentence was (whether it be prison, jail, probation or parole) and have paid any fines or restitution owed. Those seeking their records expunged will also have to have a clean record from the time they were arrested – any other arrests or convictions would potentially (and likely) be grounds for them to deny the record sealing.
“I understand how it’s difficult with a conviction for drug use to get housing sometime, public assistance or loans, be able to do volunteer work and I understand that we need to help people maybe move past some of their history so that they can make sure they’re productive,” says Captain Bob Higginbotham of the Joplin Police Department.
Once records are expunged, they will not longer be viewable by employers, landlords, banks or anyone else who may require a background check. However, it will still be viewable by law enforcement and other state and government officials who may require access (for example if you were arrested again on a similar or different charge). However, for the vast number of people who will be eligible, this is going to be a life changing bill at the start of next year.
One of the biggest arguments in favor of legalization, is the fact that marijuana arrests and convictions not only needlessly increase the incarcerated population of the United States, but it also makes living a productive life years later almost impossible for many. One at a time, states are starting to put an end to cannabis prohibition – even some cities and counties are doing what they can to put an end to the harm it has caused. Whether in the form of legalization or decriminalization, it all points towards a new era where possessing a plant will no longer keep you from reaching your full potential later in life.
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