“We are at the point where we have done everything that we can do technologically, and it’s going to require a manual intervention for anything else that’s required.”
By Hannah Gaskill, Maryland Matters
Maryland House and Senate lawmakers weighed the equity and public safety pros and the costly, time-intensive cons of criminal record expungement if cannabis is legalized at virtual meetings this week.
“We are at the point where we have done everything that we can do technologically, and it’s going to require a manual intervention for anything else that’s required,” Maryland District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey told the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup on Wednesday morning.
Under current law, the possession of fewer than 10 grams of cannabis is a $100 civil penalty; 10 grams or more is a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.
William Tilburg, the executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, told the Senate Finance Committee at a meeting Tuesday that, of the states that have decriminalized cannabis possession, Maryland has the lowest decriminalized possession amount.
But he also said that arrests for possession went down 11.6 percent from 2018 to 2019.
Morrissey laid out three routes that the legislature could take to eliminate prior cannabis charges:
- Expungement, which completely removes information about a case from court and police records;
- Shielding, which occurs a judge grants a request to keep records relating to the conviction of certain crimes from public view; or
- Sealing, which happens when someone facing certain charges asks a judge to limit access to their records for a reason the judge finds compelling.
If the legislature takes the expungement route, Morrissey said the Judiciary estimated that it would take “several hundred additional clerks” to go through “millions of case records” over a “several-year period.”
Senate Finance Committee Vice Chair Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery) and Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s) both sponsored legalization bills last session.
According to both fiscal notes, the judiciary estimated hundreds of thousands of cases would have been eligible for expungement, which Tilburg called a “very basic estimate.”
The process of expunging even one record can take a minimum of 60 to 90 days.
To expunge a record, defendants serve petitions to the state’s attorney’s office, which has 30 days to object to the request to expunge. If they object, a hearing will be conducted to grant or deny the petition.
Orders must then be served …….