Hawaii House Approves Bill To Automatically Expunge Marijuana Records, Sending It To Senate

The Hawaii House of Representatives has approved a bill to automatically expunge tens of thousands of arrest and conviction records for low-level marijuana possession cases.

About four years after the state decriminalized possession of up to three grams of cannabis—and as lawmakers consider a proposal this session to legalize marijuana—the House passed the complementary expungements legislation from Rep. David Tarnas (D) on Tuesday, sending it to the Senate.

While there’s already a process in place to request record sealing from the courts, advocates say the process can be difficult to navigate, often requiring people to seek out legal counsel and pay court fees that can be prohibitive.

This measure would automate the process, mandating that the state attorney general’s office “issue, without petition and on the department’s own initiative, an expungement order annulling, canceling, and rescinding all criminal records, including records of arrest and any records of conviction” for possession of up to three grams of marijuana.

That would need to include records for civil violations, petty misdemeanor convictions, juvenile convictions, arrests, convictions and any pending charges.

“Despite the decriminalization, some persons still have prior arrest records or conviction records for related charges that affect their employment and housing options,” the bill’s findings section says.

Under the legislation, the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center would be required to identify all cases eligible for expungement within 30 days of enactment and provide that information in biennial reports to the attorney general’s office, county prosecuting attorneys, county police departments and each state court.

Within 60 days of receiving those lists, the attorney general’s office would need to issue expungement orders for those records. Then, within one year of getting those orders, the judiciary would need to facilitate the relief.

Tarnas, the sponsor, said on Tuesday that “approximately 30,000 people” are estimated to be eligible for expungements under the proposal.

“Many states have transitioned to a state-initiated record clearance process, including Utah, Michigan and Minnesota because we find that, if it’s a petition-based system, most individuals don’t go through the process,” he said. “It’s a very complicated process that is intimidating. And so that’s why we’re trying to initiate we’re trying to establish a state-initiated record clearance process.”

Frank Stiefel, senior policy associate at the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), submitted testimony in support of the legislation for a committee hearing this session, stating that “no one should suffer the collateral consequences of cannabis criminalization.”

“HB 1595 ensures that individuals who continue to suffer the consequences of a penalty the state changed its mind about enforcing in 2019 are applied evenly so no one is left behind,” he said.

The expungements legislation passed the House on the same day that the Senate approved a bill to legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana in the state, sending the proposal to the opposite chamber.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.—

Last year the Senate passed a separate legalization bill that later stalled the House, but advocates are hopeful this year’s proposal could get further. Gov. Josh Green (D) said last month that legalization is a “big social issue that remains” to be addressed in the state, signaling that he’d likely sign a bill to end cannabis prohibition if lawmakers send him one.

Democrats in control of Hawaii’s Senate said in January that cannabis legalization is one of their top priorities this legislative session, framing the reform as a means to boost the state’s economy.

Last April, the Hawaii legislature also approved a resolution calling on the governor to create a clemency program for people with prior marijuana convictions on their records.

As for other drug policy matters, lawmakers last month advanced a bill that would provide certain legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval. The measure would not legalize psilocybin itself but would instead create an affirmative legal defense for psilocybin use and possession in the case of doctor-approved use under the guidance of a trained facilitator.

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