Will Massachusetts Expunge Marijuana Records Retroactively?

If certain lawmakers have their way, Massachusetts could be the next state to apply their marijuana legalization retroactively, effectively freeing any “offenders” who may be locked up for something that is no longer a crime.

Massachusetts Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Horace Small, Executive Director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, have been working alongside the ACLU to craft new legislation that has stirred up some controversy in the Commonwealth.

“We’ve approved medical marijuana, decriminalization and now legalization. It shows that the voters don’t believe the people who possess or sell marijuana should be in jail,” explained Sen. Eldridge to the Boston Herald.

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Sen. Eldridge getting arrested while protesting for a $15 minimum wage. / BetoMoraes

The group aims to free individuals who are currently incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses and retroactively expunge the records of those convicted of similar crimes in the past. There has been a groundswell of support in the State House for criminal reform bills that would alleviate some of the state’s enormous incarceration costs.

“We have to look at releasing folks who are in jail for marijuana crimes that are no longer crimes,” said Small. “It’s only fair now that the prohibition is over to retroactively erase these records. Sometime in the next month or two we’ll have a piece of legislation.”

Not everyone is thrilled with the proposal, however. Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson believes that passing a blanket retroactive measure sabotages all of the hard work done by law enforcement.

“It’s counterproductive and it undermines the judicial system,” Hodgson added.

One concern that Hodgson and others in opposition share is that some inmates are being held on marijuana charges only after pleading down from more serious crimes. If the measure is to be passed, that issue will have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Both Eldridge and Small maintain that the intention of this bill is not to release violent criminals.

“This doesn’t apply to someone working for a cartel or something,” said Small. “We need to look at what’s realistic and what’s over the top — there are a lot of conversations that we need to have.”

Will Senator Eldridge, Small, and the ACLU be able to overcome push-back from the law enforcement lobbyists to win freedom for all those in Massachusetts wronged by prohibition?

According to Horace Small, the answer is yes.

“We think that if given the opportunity the votes are there.”

Cover Image Courtesy of Everett-Taylor

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