A marijuana plant is displayed in a cannabis shop. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

A marijuana plant is displayed in a cannabis shop. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

House OKs making some marijuana convictions private

Bill expanding court’s decision to limit public web access for minor offenses passes 36-4.

A bill limiting public access to records of marijuana convictions passed the state House by a 36-4 vote on Friday, with supporters stating it will benefit people seeking jobs, housing and other opportunities.

House Bill 28 by Rep. Stanley Wright, an Anchorage Republican, applies to people 21 years or older with convictions involving less than an ounce of marijuana who weren’t charged with any other crimes in the case. Although the Alaska Supreme Court in January announced a rule change removing such convictions from the public court records website, he said his bill ensures those protections exist by law and it also applies to certain state background checks.

During a brief overview on the House floor that attracted no debate, Wright noted Alaskans approved a ballot measure in 2014 legalizing marijuana for people 21 and older.

“However, this left many individuals with previous low-level marijuana convictions facing significant obstacles to employment and housing opportunities,” he said. “With this measure we can provide a crucial second chance to those who would not be considered criminals in the eyes of the law today.”

More than 700 Alaskans are eligible for the confidentiality protections, according to a report by the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

“Let me be clear, this is not a matter of condoning criminal behavior,” Wright said. “It is a matter of recognizing people who have made past mistakes and have already faced the consequences of their actions.”

Exemptions exist for situations such as preventing imminent harm to people or property, and law enforcement purposes such as locating wanted fugitives.

The four dissenting votes were by some of the House’s most conservative Republican members. Opposition was also expressed during the committee process by Mike Coons, a Palmer resident who is president of Concerned Conservatives of Alaska.

“If I was an employer, I want to know if an applicant can follow rules,” he stated in written testimony. “It makes no difference if the law has changed on grass since a conviction.”

Testimony in favor of the bill was offered by Lacy Wilcox, a Juneau resident who is the legislative liaison for the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association.

“It is common knowledge that employers, schools and landlords use CourtView to perform background checks on applicants,” she wrote, referring to the court system’s public website. “In CourtView a simple marijuana possession charge appears similar to this, ‘Misconduct-Controlled Substance 6A.’ Very few understand the drug schedule and most people performing background checks are unlikely to do the next step of discovery to see that VIA is only marijuana. They will simply put the application aside. Therefore, anything that removes even a small barrier to positive life outcomes we will support.”

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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