On Monday, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that previous convictions involving small amounts (less than a half ounce) of marijuana could be completely expunged and erased from public record.
Connecticut had already decriminalized pot possession misdemeanors in 2011 – so this strong 7-0 ruling by the Supreme Court is icing on the cake, and sets a wonderful precedent for other states to follow. This particular ruling applied to the case of Bolton resident Nicholas Menditto’s, who had applied to have two previous marijuana possession convictions erased.
In the ruling, Justice Carmen Espinosa said:
“The legislature has determined that such violations are to be handled in the same manner as civil infractions, such as parking violations. The state has failed to suggest any plausible reason why erasure should be denied in such cases.”
The Supreme Court’s decision to treat marijuana as a less dangerous drug and move toward reforming the sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders is something that Attorney General Eric Holder has strongly advocated. Holder has previously stated:
“I think it’s certainly a question we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious of a drug as heroin. Especially given what we’ve seen recently with regard to heroin — the progression of people from using opioids to heroin use, the spread and the destruction that heroin has perpetrated all around our country. And to see by contrast, what the impact is of marijuana use. Now it can be destructive if used in certain ways, but the question of whether or not they should be in the same category is something that we need to ask ourselves and use science as the basis for making that determination.”
President Barack Obama has also supported this initiative. Asserting that the country’s current marijuana laws are outdated and incarcerating people for nonviolent drug offenses costs more money than it’s worth, the President has stated that treating marijuana as a major offense has had a disparate affect on communities of color and lower income.
By criminalizing marijuana, Obama worries that law enforcement is making nonviolent offenders unemployable. Obama said:
“Rendering a lot of folks unemployable because they’ve got felony records, disproportionate prison sentences. It costs a huge amount of money to states and a lot of states are figuring that out.
We may be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side. At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana.”
After the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling in favor of erasing misdemeanors, Menditto’s lawyer suggested that the ruling could be the first of many throughout the United States:
“It’s a topic multiple states will have to be facing. Because marijuana is being decriminalized across the United States, this issue needs to be addressed.”
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.