Senator relays personal experience in push for expunging marijuana-related criminal records

Hampden County

A man smokes a joint during a demonstration for the decriminalization of cannabis. (Photo by THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Difficulty expunging marijuana-related criminal records should be “unthinkable” in a state whose voters legalized the substance five years ago, Sen. Adam Gomez said Tuesday, pointing to his own experience with the criminal justice system.

When he was 17, Gomez was charged as an adult for marijuana possession and faced a potential mandatory minimum sentence, he recounted at a Judiciary Committee hearing. As he has previously discussed, Gomez entered a plea bargain to avoid jail, and he told his colleagues the stigma “followed me throughout my life.”

The specter of that case was on Gomez’s mind while he testified in favor of his bill (H 1904/S 1048), which supporters say would address flaws in the state’s 2018 expungement law. “It is unthinkable to me that in a state where voters legalized marijuana, we are still fighting for a legislative level to expunge the decriminalization offenses in a timely manner,” Gomez said. “I believe that expunging these records would allow more people to easily obtain jobs, higher education, leases for apartments, and it would also reaffirm the choice Massachusetts voters made to decriminalize marijuana.”

Lucie Gulino, an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, said Massachusetts residents with past offenses of possessing less than two ounces of marijuana can petition a court for expungement. But they often fail, Gulino said, when judges decline to grant expungement even in cases where a prosecutor has no objection.

If lawmakers advance the bill, Gulino said, “petitioners who meet the threshold requirements will be able to expunge their marijuana records rather than having to face the challenges that some judges will exercise their discretion and deny all expungement petitions because they view the expungement process unfavorably.”

Gomez said the bill would also prohibit expunged marijuana arrest records from disqualifying an applicant for public service, require state officials to restore any driver licenses suspended for operating under the influence of marijuana, and allow inmates “being held only for a sentence under an expungement marijuana offense to apply to the sentencing court for an order of discharge and release.” 

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