NM Courts call for help with Cannabis expungement
The New Mexico judicial branch wants legislators to change the cannabis law that automatically expunges prior marijuana criminal charges.
The state Supreme Court says the burden of reviewing all the states records in search of cannabis offenses is too much for staffers to handle and wants to leave it up to individuals to expunge their own records.
In 2021, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill that automatically remove the public records of certain low-level cannabis offenders or redacted the sections that were cannabis related. Eligible cases include any in which the offense is no longer a crime according to the state’s Cannabis Regulation Act. This includes possession of cannabis up to two ounces.
Last year the Department of Public Safety submitted lists of criminal cannabis cases that were potentially eligible for expungement to district attorneys around the state. In August, the Second Judicial District Attorney’s office—located in Bernalillo County, where most of the state’s cannabis charges have been filed—said it had already reviewed over 11,000 criminal cannabis cases for expungement eligibility.
But the courts are now saying that the task of reviewing these cases is becoming too much to handle. During a meeting of the legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, Supreme Court Chief Justice Shannon Bacon said there’s already a process for individuals to expunge their arrest records in cases without convictions.
“We think there’s a more straightforward and simplistic way to handle this that will take what has been an incredibly onerous process off the judiciary and put the control in the hands of the person that’s had the conviction,” Bacon said, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Bacon has also said that a number of prosecutors and law enforcement agencies across the state are using a provision in the law that allows them to object to the expungement of certain cases.
Cannabis advocates say that expunging criminal cannabis records is absolutely necessary to address equity. For those who have been arrested for cannabis, getting a job or buying a home can be difficult. Now that the laws have changed, advocates say it’s time to remove the barriers that these records can place on a person’s life.
“To have your record expunged means that you could go into a job interview and when asked, ‘Do you have a record?’ you can say with confidence, ‘I have no record.’ I think that’s important not only for expanding job opportunities, but also from a psychological perspective,” said Red Barn Growers/Green Goods Executive Director Ellie Besancon. The cannabis company has helped organize two free expungement clinics in recent months to help individuals in and around the Albuquerque area whose records weren’t automatically expunged by the court.