JUNEAU — The records of about 8,500 Alaskans convicted of low-level marijuana crimes could be made inaccessible on CourtView and the state’s criminal records database, APSIN, under legislation approved by the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday.
House Bill 246, from Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, is intended to fight prejudice against Alaskans who committed nonviolent marijuana-related crimes. Most of those crimes occurred before Alaska’s 2014 vote to legalize recreational marijuana and involve actions that are no longer considered illegal.
On Wednesday and in committee hearings, he and other lawmakers argued that it is inappropriate for Alaskans to be denied employment or housing because of a marijuana conviction. The bill keeps convictions on file but conceals them from casual public inspection.
Other parts of the bill lower the penalty for marijuana possession by Alaskans ages 18 to 20. Instead of a misdemeanor, possession would be a violation, identical to underage alcohol possession.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety estimated that it will cost about $300,000 over two years to implement the proposal.
The bill passed the House in a bipartisan 30-8 vote and advances to the Senate, where a companion bill from Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, is expected to receive a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.
In order to become law, the House and Senate versions of the bill would need to be merged before the end of the legislative session, and the bill still needs the approval of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
After the House vote, Dunleavy said on the Twitter account belonging to his reelection campaign that he supports lawmakers’ work on the issue.
Other states have passed laws that allow marijuana-related convictions to be completely expunged, not just hidden. Kreiss-Tomkins said after the vote that he’d like to see that happen here in Alaska, but his bill would not take that step.
Lacy Wilcox, president of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, sat in the gallery during the House vote and said the bill doesn’t go as far as her group would like, but she believes even an incremental change is a positive one. She noted that public sentiment surrounding nonviolent drug crimes is changing.
“I don’t know if I can predict the culture shift, but this wouldn’t have happened five years ago,” she said.
The bill passed the House on April 20, or 4/20 — an unofficial holiday for people who enjoy cannabis. But Kreiss-Tomkins said that was purely coincidental; it had been scheduled for a vote Tuesday.
Elsewhere in the Capitol, lawmakers did make nodding references to the date: Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, introduced a legislative citation praising a Fairbanks marijuana shop, and the House Finance Committee heard a bill that would set up a committee to investigate changes to the state’s marijuana tax structure.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said marijuana convictions will be removed from APSIN. They will be made private but not removed.