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Maine Governor Signs Bill Allowing Marijuana Convictions To Be Sealed Upon Application



“These victims of the war on drugs deserve to have their names cleared now, today.”

By Emma Davis, Maine Morning Star

The Maine Legislature passed two bills that would expand eligibility for sealing criminal records, one that drops the age requirements for record sealing and another that allows for sealing now-legal marijuana crimes.

While these plans require people to apply to have records sealed, another proposal that would have automated the process failed after criticism that doing so would violate the First Amendment. That bill specifically applied to criminal records for marijuana possession and cultivation that’s since been legalized in Maine.

The Legislature signaled that Maine’s reconciliation with when it may be appropriate to seal criminal records is far from over, as it also passed a bill to make permanent a commission to continue to study the issue.

Unfinished work on this matter was made clear during floor speeches on these bills, as well, from lawmakers who voted both for and against the range of measures.

The bill that removed the age-related prerequisite for sealing criminal history, LD 2188, passed the House 87–59 and the Senate 25–9. Ahead of the Senate vote, Sen. Lisa Keim (R-Oxford), who voted against the bill, argued record sealing is the incorrect means to give people a fresh start.

“I’m very in favor of second changes and letting people rebuild their lives after making mistakes,” Keim said. “My problem with this legislation, and similar legislation, is the false sense of security.”

Rather than shielding the records from public view, Keim said Maine should instead develop a more robust pardon process.

While legislators agreed to provide a way for people to apply to have certain criminal histories sealed, the majority of the House and Senate did not go so far as to make record-sealing the default.

The bill the Legislature killed, LD 2269, would have tasked state agencies with reviewing criminal record information on a monthly basis and then sealing records for crimes that are no longer considered illegal under Maine’s adult use cannabis law, which was enacted in 2017.

On the House and Senate floor, critics argued such a process would violate the right of the public to access records of criminal proceedings under the First Amendment. In contrast, the approved bills would keep some documentation of a conviction in the public domain by requiring a post-judgment motion review process.

While ultimately in the minority, some lawmakers argued that not having an automatic process would disadvantage people who are not aware they can apply to seal or who do not have the resources to hire representation.

“These victims of the war on drugs deserve to have their names cleared now, today,” Rep. Matthew Beck (D-South Portland) said.

Critics from both parties also raised concern about LD 2269’s price tag, $633,185 for the 2024-25 fiscal year, with ongoing appropriations needed to pay the salaries of additional employees to assume the review and sealing work.

However, there was strong support in both chambers to allow people to apply to get their criminal histories for now-legal marijuana crimes sealed. The bill to permit that option, LD 2236, received a favorable vote of 27–8 in the Senate and 90–57 in the House, and Gov. Janet Mills (D) has since signed it into law.

LD 2236 adds to the state law definition of “eligible criminal conviction” that crimes no longer considered illegal under Maine’s cannabis law are eligible for a person to file a post-judgment motion to seal that criminal history record information.

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Some objected to the fiscal note of this bill, too, but because it is essentially zero. Any additional workload associated with the new cases filed will be absorbed under existing appropriations.

“How could there possibly not be a fiscal note?” Sen. Jim Libby (R-Cumberland) asked on the floor.

Sen. Anne Carney (D-Cumberland) said no additional funds are needed because sealing requests are not common.

“The sad thing about this process, actually, is that it’s not used as often,” Carney said.

Each of these record sealing bills was based on recommendations from a report that the Criminal Records Review Committee shared earlier this session. That report was the final task for the committee, which the Legislature created in 2023.

While legislators did not agree with all of the group’s recommendations, they did agree the group’s work must continue. LD 2252, a bill to make that committee permanent, as the Criminal Records Review Commission, passed with unanimous consent  in both chambers.

This story was first published by Maine Morning Star.

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