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Nevada Funds Investigation on Implementing Automatic Record Sealing for Cannabis Convictions

Three nonprofits (the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and Nevada Legal Services) received $1.2 million in cannabis tax revenue from Clark County Commission earlier this month. Code for America received $200,000 from the Clark County Commission. It was given the task of investigating ways to make Nevada’s automatic record sealing a reality.

According to The Nevada IndependentVenicia Conidine is the Assemblymember and also Director of Development for Legal Aid of Southern Nevada. She explained to us how convictions can affect our lives later on in life. “There was a woman who couldn’t go see her son graduate on an Air Force base because she had a felony record [for cannabis],” said Considine. “There’s a lot of people that live here in Las Vegas that couldn’t get jobs, simply because they had something on their record from a decade, two decades ago, that was eligible for record sealing, but there was no real way to get it done.”

Record sealing can often be complicated and require a large amount of funds. The Nevada IndependentAccording to some estimates, less than 10% are eligible for the process.

Bay Area-based Code for America still has nine months left to record what is needed to accelerate this process. It is hoped that this will bring attention to Assembly Bill 192 (also known as the Nevada Second Chance Act), which was passed in 2019.

AB-192’s sponsor, former-Assemblymember William McCurdy II (who is now a Clark County Commissioner), explains one of the hangups of the bill. “I wanted [AB-192] to be an automatic seal, but that was impossible, because we currently still have records that are not digitized,” McCurdy said.

AB-192 has resulted in many helpful workshops, which helped Nevadans clear past marijuana convictions. But there are many others who still need assistance. “Having a record, especially under the previous laws, you could have had a felony…and have never trafficked or anything,” McCurdy said.

Before 2016, when medical marijuana was legalized, anyone who violated the law would be charged with a felony. Possession of more than 1 ounce becomes a misdemeanor after 2016, and felonies can be received for selling illegal cannabis products.

McCurdy said that Black offenders are more likely to be convicted due to the harshness of cannabis laws. The American Civil Liberties Union has data that shows that Black offenders were arrested at three times the rate as whites in relation to cannabis offenses from 2001-2018. In some cases, it was up to eight times.

“If you were someone [of color], back in the day, that had a drug addiction, and you were found to be in possession of that drug, most of the time you were sentenced with a felony,” McCurdy said. “That was the war on drugs.”

Considine adds that the record sealing process is difficult to manage for people trying to do it for themselves, and it’s a challenge even for legal professionals. “If you served your time and you’re [eligible for record sealing]Why are people still being penalized for this? [use cannabis] now and no one’s getting in trouble for it?” Considine said.

Code for America played a key role in helping Utah get rid of more than 500 000 records between February 2022 and February 2022. The organization has helped other states, such as Oklahoma and California. Although the organization has been successful in the past, Code for America’s Associate Program Director Alia Toran-Burrell says that every state is different, and may require a different approach. An updated law will only accomplish so much. “Legislation is needed because there’s no other real mechanism to enforce a state to do this at the state level,” Burrell said.

The process of finding how best to tackle record sealing requires a lot of thought to navigate through a state’s current policy. “I think we’re focused on what is the current landscape?” Burrell said. “What exists in systems? What’s in the policy?” And then we’ll work with the state to figure out if it’s even something that they want to move forward with.”

Although Nevada is not allowed to expunge, it could be possible for people with cannabis convictions in Nevada to get their freedom.

“These are folks who have served their time, they’ve done their probation, they have been a model citizen for however long it’s been since their probation ended,” Considine said. “And this is just a way for them to find a better job, move up, become a nurse, go see their kids on a [military] base, go to Canada or … visit other countries or whatever it is that is stopping them.”