Anyone convicted of a minor marijuana offense in Atlanta may find their lives getting significantly easier at the start of 2020. On Monday, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an administrative order directing the city’s courts to seal all criminal records for low-level cannabis crimes by February 1st.
“The fact remains that communities of color are disproportionately affected by the lingering stigma of victimless, minor offenses — even long after the accused have paid their debts,” Bottoms said in a press release. “This outmoded practice deprives our communities and workforce of brilliant and promising minds, all because of an unfair justice system that can and will be course-corrected.”
One of pot prohibition’s greatest tragedies is that even non-violent, low-level weed convictions can follow a person around for the rest of their life. A criminal record can harm an individual’s chances at getting into or staying in college, finding a new job, getting a new home, or even keeping custody of one’s children. And due the drug war’s gross racial profiling, black and brown Americans struggle with these records at higher rates than white or Asian Americans.
“Some of the worst racial disparities in law enforcement show up in marijuana charges," Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, told the Associated Press.
Sealing criminal records will prevent most background checks from finding these minor pot crimes. Landlords, prospective employers, and banks and creditors won’t be able to access these sealed records, but law enforcement and courts may still peep into them if relevant to a specific case.
Ideally, minor weed offenses should be expunged altogether, since weed is safer than alcohol or tobacco, and anti-cannabis laws are ridiculously unjust to begin with. But sealing records is a pretty good start in a state that barely even has its own medical cannabis program.
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