Second chances for marijuana offenses

BISMARCK, N.D. - Low-level marijuana offenders will have an easier time cleaning their record.

The state's Pardon Advisory Board is streamlining a system to give offenders a second chance.

In 2018, 40% of all drug arrests in the United States were for marijuana, according to the Pew Research Center. Of the those offenses, 92% of arrests were for possession. Affecting many facets of life.

"There are a certain number of people who have marijuana convictions on their record, never committed another offense, and may have problems finding housing or employment. And we feel that it really isn't necessary for someone to carry this kind of a burden,” said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

The policy allows those with marijuana possession convictions of less than one ounce to be expunged as long as the applicant hasn't been found guilty of another crime within the last five years.

However, it's not entire relief for everybody. The policy only applies to possession and ingestion, not trafficking nor if the applicant plead guilty to a different crime during that five-year window.

"So people who perhaps in high school, college, younger years, who made a horrible decision in life or got caught doing something that today is not really considered criminal, it's still an infraction and a crime, but not considered a very significant offense may be affected by those hindering abilities,” said Bismarck Attorney Jim Martens.

The new process only calls for one page of forms to be filled out, along with a copy of the criminal citation and a state ID.

Some say the state is adopting a notable shift in handling marijuana offenses. Just as some groups are trying to get recreational weed on the ballot this year.

"I've never been a proponent of recreational legalized marijuana, but I am a proponent of having the criminal record offense commensurate with the level of the offense,” Stenehjem said.

Just a few weeks ago, Gov. Doug Burgum pardoned 16 people under the new policy; the first round of second chances.

The Pardon Advisory Board only meets twice a year, with few exceptions, in April and November. However, applications must be received by the committee at least 90 days before the meeting.