It Would Be a Mistake for Marijuana Proponents to Try for Expungement Again


When it comes to ballot measures there’s a paradoxical political dynamic at play.

When a given measure is short, and simple, the rallying cry against it is that it’s too vague. But when ballot measure committees seek to flesh out their proposals, they usually run into a real problem with trying to make more detailed legal language gibe with existing law, an exercise which can inspire critics to pounce on conflicts and unintended consequences both real and imagined.

I think the pro-marijuana activists at Legalize ND are running into this problem. After voters rejected their relatively straight-forward legalization effort – Measure 3 on last  year’s ballot – they’re coming back with a far more complex proposal.

Barry Amundson has the details, and Legalize ND organizer David Owen will be speaking about it on tomrorow’s podcast, but for the most part I think they’re heading in the right direction. Voters clearly weren’t comfortable with a broad sort of legalization for marijuana, so Legalize ND is trying to give them something much more limited in scope.

It makes sense, except for one area. It seems they’re going to keep an expungement provision for past marijuana-related convictions a part of their proposal, despite Owen telling me previously they’d be ditching it.

From Amundson’s article:

Owen said the sponsoring committee will be voting on the proposal and some changes could be made.

He said Brand continues to work with an expert to determine final wording about expunging marijuana convictions from a person’s record. Owen said it likely would require expunging the conviction of any person that had possessed less than two ounces of marijuana, similar to the new possession limits in the proposed law. He said dealers or those possessing more than two ounces would still have the conviction on their records.

This is a mistake. There is a strong sense among North Dakota voters that, whatever our marijuana policies may or may not be going forward, those who violated them in the past should still be held responsible for their actions.

I don’t agree with that stance. Forcing people to be tied, for the rest of their lives, to criminal convictions for marijuana-related activities society is increasingly coming to see as not all that serious is a difficult thing to swallow. But why let the past stand in the way of legalization going forward?

The expungement provision in Legalize ND’s last ballot measure was confusing to voters, at best. At worst, it felt to many like giving a free pass to people who broke the law. So why include it in a new measure?

Why die on this particular hill?