Although Rhode Island decriminalized minor marijuana possession offenses in 2013, many people are still denied jobs and other opportunities based on their marijuana-related record as it currently stands. Senator Harold Metts previously stated, “[i]f an act has been decriminalized since a person was charged and paid their price for it, that person shouldn’t have to keep paying the price in the form of being denied jobs and other opportunities because of their criminal record . . . [l]et them move on, and they can better support themselves and their families and contribute to our communities and our state.”
In 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island released a report that showed that Black residents of Rhode Island were three times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than White residents of Rhode Island. The ACLU stated, “[e]specially given the significant racial disparities evident in drug-related offenses, it is unconscionable to burden individuals with a criminal record [like marijuana convictions] for a victimless crime.”
Two “marijuana expungement bills” were introduced by lawmakers in the 2020 Legislative Session to include H7142 and H7141. H7142 proposed automatic expungement process for those convicted of marijuana possession offenses (which would now constitute a decriminalized offense) regardless of their criminal history. H7141 proposed a prohibition on past criminal misdemeanors and felonies for possession of marijuana from being used against a person looking to enter the cannabis industry or any government assistance program(s). The ACLU testified in favor of both pieces of legislation.
The Rhode Island Marijuana Expungement Act of 2021
On January 29, 2021, H5307 (“The Rhode Island Marijuana Expungement Act of 2021”). was introduced. Among other things, if passed, this law would;
- Permit any person with a prior conviction for a misdemeanor or felony possession of marijuana to have the criminal conviction expunged automatically;
- Waive all court costs with respect to expungement of a marijuana offense (“This expungement shall be at no cost to the individual”);
- Prevent any marijuana charge and/or conviction that had previously been expunged from impeding a person’s opportunity to enter the cannabis industry or any government assistance programs;
- Compel the Office of the Attorney General, Rhode Island State Police, and all municipal police departments to promulgate any and all rules and regulations necessary to carry out the provisions set forth in Bill.
Although this Bill has not yet been passed, there is hope for people with past marijuana charges and/or convictions in Rhode Island to have their records expunged!