ACLU Maryland Works to Expunge Old Marijuana Convictions

Guest post by Rachelle Yeung of ACLU of Maryland
During the 2014 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law to decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. This law went into effect on Oct. 1, 2014. The following year, the General Assembly passed another law allowing for the expungement of “crimes that are no longer a crime.” Because of the decriminalization law, possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana was no longer a crime, but possession of more than 10 grams still was. Unfortunately, criminal records prior to Oct. 1, 2014 didn’t specify the amount of marijuana in possession at the time. Currently, individuals with possession records may still have their expungement denied if they cannot affirmatively prove that their possession was of 10 grams or less. HB 379 would allow for the expungement of all marijuana possession records, regardless of the amount.
It is important for the ACLU of Maryland to support HB 379 because of the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws. Prior to decriminalization, African Americans in Maryland were nearly three times more likely to be arrested for the simple possession of marijuana than their White neighbors, despite comparable rates of use across all races. Criminal records carry with them many collateral consequences that can become an obstacle to jobs, professional licenses, education, housing, and even parental rights. Because of the historic racial disparity in enforcement, Black and brown communities continue to carry the worst impact of those collateral consequences. Expungement of these records would allow more Marylanders to have the opportunity to be contributing, productive members of society.