A Growing Push To Wipe Out Past Marijuana Misdemeanors

May 30, 2018

On July 1 Vermont's marijuana laws will allow adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate small quantities of the drug for personal use. But possession under two ounces has been a misdemeanor offense in Vermont, which means thousands of Vermonters will have criminal records for offenses that will soon be considered legal in the state. Now Vermont Law School is working with states attorneys in two counties to facilitate expunging those offenses from Vermonters' criminal records.

"Statewide there are about 2,800 of these convictions, and most of them entail possessing small amounts of marijuana, between zero and two ounces." - David Cahill

David Cahill, state's attorney in Windsor County, told Vermont Edition that expunging records removes the conviction from an individual's criminal record. Cahill said an offense that's formally expunged allows people to lawfully claim to never have been convicted or arrested. Such convictions can have negative impacts on a person's employment prospects, housing, finances and more. 

The process involves filling out an expungement petition and paying a $90 filing fee. In an email, Cahill said a private donor has offered to pay the filing fee for those who don't qualify for need-based fee waivers from the court. 

Cahill said petitioners will also have to esnure they've paid all fines and court fees associated with their marijuana conviction before completing their petition. 

Vermont Law School’s Center for Justice Reform is hosting “Expungement Day” events in early June in Chittenden and Windsor County.

  • Windsor County: Saturday, June 9, from 9 a.m. to noon, in Room 012 at Oakes Hall at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.
  • Chittenden County: Tuesday, June 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in Courtroom 2C of the Costello Courthouse at 32 Cherry Street in Burlington. 

At the expungement events, Cahill said help will be available from Vermont Legal Aide and Vermont Law School in "identifying first if they’re eligible for expungement relief for possession of marijuana; second, how you fill out the petition; and third, how you present the petition to me, or a similar authority, such that we can sign off on it and get it presented to the court and finally have the conviction expunged.”

Even with the support of Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan, Cahill said he and Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George - the only other state attorney taking part in the VLS expungement effort - are only able to act on petitions in their county of jurisdiction.

Cahill said the effort to wipe out the charges points to a shift in philosophy in Vermont's criminal justice system - and among lawmakers - when it comes to marijuana. 

“Whenever you as a public official have the opportunity to correct a historical wrong, you should take it. And that’s what we’re doing … when the general assembly legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana … they effectively acknowledged a public policy mistake, which was to saddle Vermonters with criminal records merely for the act of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana."

Broadcast live on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.