Marijuana charges are leaving CourtView. A new bill would pull them from background checks, too

Rep. Stanley Wright (left) and an aide present HB 28 in the House Judiciary Committee on April 14, 2023. (Riley Board/KDLL)

In CourtView — the state’s public website for accessing court records — a marijuana possession charge shows up as something like “Misconduct – Controlled Substance 6A.” It isn’t immediately clear the charge is for something that has been legal now for eight years.

For people 21 and older with marijuana charges from 2014 or earlier, before the state legalized the substance recreationally, this can be a significant barrier to getting housing or a job. Employers and landlords can easily access CourtView to make decisions about applicants.

House Bill 28 is making its way through the Legislature and would remove marijuana convictions from the public record and some state background checks. The bill was introduced by East Anchorage Republican Rep. Stanley Wright.

“It came up during my campaign,” Wright said. “A lot of folks saying things like, ‘I can’t get out of my mom’s house, I can’t get an apartment because I have this marijuana charge. I’m being held back man, you guys need to do something about it. It’s not even illegal anymore.’”

Wright introduced the bill first thing this session, after a similar bill passed the House last year but didn’t make it out of the Senate.

Earlier this year, the Alaska Supreme Court announced a rule change that will remove marijuana charges from CourtView. That goes into effect in just a couple weeks and will scrub 750 names from the site.

Alaska was the third state to legalize recreational marijuana, by a ballot measure in 2014.

Wright’s bill, introduced just before the Supreme Court ruling in January, calls for removing minor marijuana charges from CourtView and also from non-federal background checks administered by the state Department of Public Service, or DPS.

Wright said even though parts of the bill may be redundant with the court ruling, his legislation is still an important additional step because it would codify the CourtView record-clearing in the law.

“If you could easily say that you are going to take it off the website, someone new could come and say ‘We’re gonna put it back on the website,’” he said. “So I think it’s important that we run the bill.”

The legislation also removes pre-2014 marijuana possession charges from background checks conducted by DPS, the kind that might be requested by an employer or landlord. DPS would need to examine 8,500 cases were the bill to pass.

Individuals will still be able to see marijuana records by going in person to a courthouse and requesting the documents, they just won’t be readily available online.

Wright said the bill isn’t really about weed: it’s about removing barriers for Alaskans.

“There are so many stories of people being stuck, folks trying to get jobs. Why would we want to keep people from reaching their full potential? I think this bill helps those individuals do it,” he said.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship and support from the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, whose board is headed by Ryan Tunseth, owner of East Rip in Kenai. The association’s legislative liaison submitted a letter of support, calling it an “incremental but important step in the right direction towards destigmatizing cannabis consumption.”

Wright said he’s hopeful about the bill this session.

“I just want people to reach their full potential in life. If this is gonna help you get one step closer to putting food on the table, to living in a better place, I’m all for it,” he said. “I think a lot of folks, once they realize that’s what this is all about, they’ll start to accept it.”

The bill moved out of the House Judiciary Committee last Friday and is waiting for a hearing in House Finance.

KDLL - Kenai

KDLL is our partner station in Kenai. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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