Earlier this month, three nonprofit organizations (the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Nevada Legal Services, and Code for America) were granted a total of $1.2 million from cannabis tax revenue from the Clark County Commission. Code for America, which received $200,000 of this amount, has been tasked with investigating how to implement automatic record sealing in the state of Nevada.
According to The Nevada Independent, Assemblymember Venicia Considine, who is also the Director of Development at Legal Aid of Southern Nevada, explained how these convictions affect people later 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 is often a lengthy process, which includes a number of steps, as well as funds, in order to achieve success. The Nevada Independent claims that less than 10% of eligible people who seek out this process actually get their records cleared.
Bay Area-based Code for America has nine months to recount what would be necessary to speed up this process. Many hope that it could bring positive attention back to Assembly Bill 192, also called 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 led to many useful workshops that have helped Nevadan residents clear their past cannabis convictions, but there are still many more people in need of assistance. “Having a record, especially under the previous laws, you could have had a felony…and have never trafficked or anything,” McCurdy said.
Prior to 2016 when voters legalized medical cannabis, violators of the law received a felony charge after three misdemeanor possession charges of less than one ounce of cannabis (or if they possessed more than one ounce on the first offense). After 2016, possession of more than one ounce is a misdemeanor, and felonies are received for illegal cannabis product selling.
McCurdy mentioned that harsh cannabis laws have caused Black offenders to receive more severe convictions. This is backed up by data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union, which shares that cannabis offenses between 2001-2018 report that Black people were arrested three times the rate of white people, and in some states, up to eight times as often.
“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 you still paying a penalty for it, especially when people can [use cannabis] now and no one’s getting in trouble for it?” Considine said.
Code for America was instrumental in aiding the state of Utah to clear more than 500,000 records in February 2022. It has also helped out other states such as California and Oklahoma as well. 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. Ultimately, an updated law can only do 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 exists 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 does not allow expungement, a new process targeting record sealing could still help a lot of people who have cannabis convictions on their records receive the freedom they deserve.
“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.”