Bills To End The War On Drugs: An Act Automatically Sealing Cannabis Records

There are thousands or even tens of thousands of residents who still have these charges unsealed

Ed. Note: While Talking Joints Memo is focused on cannabis culture and products, we also see that psychedelics are the next theater in the war to end the War on Drugs. The movement is very much underway already, as the volunteer network Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (BSNM) has successfully pushed efforts to decriminalize psychedelic plants in Somerville, Cambridge, Easthampton, and Northampton, with various similar efforts underway elsewhere. BSNM currently has three pieces of legislation filed in the Massachusetts legislature, and to help walk readers through them we asked the group’s board to summarize them in brief. This is the third post outlining their efforts on Beacon Hill.

Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, a grassroots community group with more than 2,000 volunteers across New England, filed three pieces of legislation to comprehensively end Massachusetts’ War on Drugs. 

The all-volunteer organization, composed of over a dozen local groups, has worked with six city councils in Massachusetts to pass measures to deprioritize psychedelic plants and arrests for possession of all controlled substances. 

These bills represent the most expansive model to improve access to care with psychedelic plants and a least punitive model for treating all substance use as an issue of public health yet filed anywhere in the United States. 

HD 3444 An Act Automatically Sealing Cannabis Records & Promoting Uniform Digital Record Keeping

Massachusetts makes it notoriously difficult for individuals to go through the process to expunge their cannabis charges through CORI clinics, and the statewide system is primarily paper-based with extremely poor record keeping practices. Many of the vulnerable people convicted of cannabis charges still suffer through being denied employment and housing, and they are not well equipped to fill out almost seven pages of paperwork, advocate for themselves in court, and travel to the location of clinics and courthouses. This is why less than seven expungements for cannabis are completed every year when there are thousands or even tens of thousands of residents who still have these charges unsealed.

That is why Bay Staters for Natural Medicine partnered with Rep. Chynah Tyler, Rep. Sam Montaño, Code for Boston, and the Greater Boston Legal Foundation among others to push for this sealing to be automatic. Sealing, in contrast to expungements, means that people will still be able to access their records for social equity programs and immigration proceedings. But all the companies that mine the court data to help deny opportunity won’t be able to do that, and this bill will help digitize the data in a way that other controlled substances charges can eventually be sealed too.

Notably, the Boston Globe mischaracterized Rep. Chynah Tyler’s position on this question with incorrect and uncorrected reporting (despite outreach by journalists in our network):

Tyler’s bill would direct probation department officials to immediately grant eligible requests, but Edwards and other progressives want to see the state do more, and automatically expunge old pot charges.

“There’s still this sense that someone needs to make a case for themselves,” Edwards said. “I find that deeply offensive. No one should be begging a court to have their record expunged…” 

The Globe unfortunately ignored follow up inquiries for a correction and coverage of the automatic sealing legislation. Notably, the chief administrator of the CORI system has also ignored informational requests by Code for Boston and the Greater Boston Legal Foundation for information on how these records are kept, which would enable technologists to design a solution. Seven years after cannabis legalization, fewer than seven people each year are having their records expunged because of this sad state of affairs and a failure of journalism to bring attention to legislation to fix it.