Hundreds of previous marijuana-related convictions will be removed from state’s courts database

Hundreds of previous marijuana-related convictions will be removed from state’s courts database
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 6:58 PM AKST

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska is joining several other states in revising the visibility of convictions for criminal actions that are now legal.

Beginning May 1, marijuana possession convictions of about just under 800 Alaska residents will be removed from Courtview, a public, online database of court cases, per an order from the Alaska Supreme Court.

The Alaska Supreme Court issued Order 2001 ensuring that Courtview will display records of all marijuana convictions except those involved in cases in which the defendant was at least 21 years of age, possessed less than one ounce of marijuana and did not have any other criminal charges.

This change does not expunge the charges from criminal history; the Alaska court system operates independently of the organization that maintains criminal records, Alaska Department of Public Safety.

DPS confirmed this today, stating in an email that “The recent rule changes at the Alaska Court System do not impact the state’s criminal history repository APSIN (Alaska Public Safety Information Network.) DPS uses APSIN and FBI criminal databases to conduct background checks and release criminal history for the purposes authorized under AS 12.62.160.”

Alaska Supreme Court General Counsel Nancy Meade reinforced the separation between the court system and criminal record keeping — and record checking.

“The court system is not the official criminal record repository for the state of Alaska,” Meade said.

Attorney Jana Weltzin, founder of law firm JDW Counsel, articulated how this was a step in the right direction for this highly-regulated industry in Alaska.

“If you’re over the age of 21 and you violated simple marijuana possession — meaning marijuana under an ounce — and you had it on your person, and it’s not connected with any other crime, then the Supreme Court of Alaska says we’re removing those from Courtview.”

A bill that went before the Alaska Legislature during the 32nd session in 2022 purported to limit access to marijuana conviction records but failed to pass in the Senate.

Rep. Stanley Wright of Anchorage pre-filed the bill again this year, hoping that the early motion would allow more time for the bill to pass this year.

Forrest Wolfe, Wright’s Chief of Staff, linked the issue to one of the biggest challenges facing the state Legislature: Alaska’s workforce and overcoming the steady outmigration of working-age residents.

While the population is expected to grow through 2050, according to a state population projection, Alaskans aged 20-64 will only grow by 2%.

That leaves a workforce gap to fill, and one that Wright’s bill could help fix.

“It’s all about reducing barriers to entry, especially for employment,” Wolfe said. “In the state of Alaska, we’ve got a huge workforce shortage.”

“If you were of age, 21 years of age or older, and it was some sort of a nonviolent crime you were charged with and convicted of, now that that is legal in the state, we don’t think it should be reflected negatively on your record,” Wolfe added.

Federal law prohibits the use, sale and possession of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, but many states make their own rules decriminalizing and legalizing cannabis use since the 1990s.

As the American Medical Association adopted a policy urging states to remove records of marijuana-related convictions for actions that are now legal, one question the forthcoming change raises is what happens to convictions for laws that no longer exist.