In 2016, the ACLU released a report which showed that Black residents of Rhode Island were three times as likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white residents. Among other things, the presence of a criminal record can make it more difficult for individuals to find employment, obtain occupational licenses, and find housing. Especially given the significant racial disparities evident in drug-related offenses, it is unconscionable to burden individuals with a criminal record for a victimless crime.
Three bills introduced this session, H 7091, H 7142, and H 7141, introduced by Representative Jason Knight and Representative Anastasia Williams, respectively, would provide avenues for expungement of certain offenses related to drug possession. H 7091 would allow for the expungement of felony simple possession offenses five years after the completion of a sentence, and H 7142 would provide for an automatic expungement process for individuals convicted of a crime of marijuana possession. Both bills would ensure rehabilitation and community reintegration following an individual’s involvement with the criminal justice system and would provide for the appropriate legal avenues to do so. H 7141 would similarly ensure that individuals who are burdened with criminal records for marijuana-related crimes have an opportunity to expunge the offenses from their records.We testified in favor of all three pieces of legislation.