Clear Cloudy Records: NORML Clinic for Southern Arizona Comes to Tucson Saturday | cannabis
There are nearly 200,000 Estimated erasable cannabis offenses across the state of Arizona and on July 12th, the floodgates will open for those affected by the old cannabis laws to apply for their criminal records to be sealed.
While some petitioners can expedite the process through their District Attorney’s websites, many will likely need help navigating the system.
To help affected individuals figure out how to move forward, Southern Arizona NORML will host a self-help clinic in Tucson at Harambe Café, 6464 E. Tanque Verde, on Saturday, July 3rd, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
The clinic is run by lawyers specializing in amicus or criminal law who guide qualified applicants through the process.
“We provide information to people on how to fill out petitions on their own, so these are self-help clinics,” said Jon Udell, communications director for Arizona NORML. “We’re not going to petition people. Associated with this is a high risk. We’ll essentially walk you through the petition published by the Arizona Supreme Court, explain what the various sections require, and provide information. ”
AZNORML has recruited and trained volunteer attorneys so they are ready to successfully guide individuals through the process.
“Fortunately, the petitions are not an incredibly complex legal undertaking,” said Udell. “It’s pretty easy as well
However, there will likely be exceptions and one-offs that, according to Udell, will require a more individualized approach.
For example, if someone were arrested for possessing an ounce of cannabis and later violated probation with possession of firearms, none of these crimes would have occurred under the new law since cannabis is legal. There are also inmates who are serving prison terms who might not have been there if not on minor marijuana charges.
So there could be “gray areas” that require a more complex approach and are likely to set new legal precedents.
“There could be some cases like this and some of the rights groups with greater impact will step in and try to take over some of them,” Udell said. “You will go to the appeals courts and get good, authoritative case law to help other people.”
But for most people it will be pretty easy.
While there is nothing to crack down on federal offenses, anyone with charges, including offenses, should consider having their files deleted as even minor property charges can prosecute such individuals.
“Misdemeanor charges can show up in people’s background reports and employers can refuse to hire them – nothing stops them,” Udell said. “Apartment complexes and landlords can also refuse to let you.”
The clinic is open to the public and drop-ins are also welcome. Participants are encouraged to bring as much documentation as possible about their previous Arizona cases or arrests, including arrest records, criminal charges, and / or convictions. Nonetheless, people who do not have any documentation are encouraged to participate.
AZNORML will host several additional clinics in the Phoenix area in the days leading up to July 12th. More information is available at arizonanorml.org.
Another way to file a petition is available on the Pima County District Attorney’s website at www.pcao.pima.gov/prop207 for individuals with simple and straightforward cases.
According to PCAO Senior Counsel Jack Chin, there have been approximately 116,000 drug-related cases in Pima County since 1995 that are “potentially eligible” for deletion.
“If we actually look at these cases, many of them will be out of the question,” said Chin. “The [number] includes all narcotics cases. Some of them will not contain cannabis, and some of them, if they contain cannabis, will contain an amount that is above the limit. But that’s the huge pool that we have to sort out. ”
PCAO will endeavor to evaluate these cases, but people who apply online will take precedence over cases where deletion has not been requested directly by the person.
Julie Gunnigle, Arizona NORML’s director of politics and civic engagement, recommends a cautious approach to the online prosecutor’s approach due to privacy concerns and a vague timeline. She also believes that a swarm of early, self-submitted petitions will have a snowball effect and show that there is nothing to fear from the process.
“We really tried to encourage that early turnout because that will increase voter turnout and get more people up,” said Gunnigle. “The way it is currently structured depends entirely on someone raising their hand and saying, ‘Yes, I am, I have a criminal record’ and recognizing that there is still a lot of stigma attached to those directly affected lying around cannabis. ”
High voter turnout can also help bridge barriers with those in black, indigenous and other colored communities (BIPOC), where citizens are much more likely to be prosecuted for drug offenses.
“I hope, in the face of the onslaught, more people will feel confident that clinics like ours can offer them real legal assistance,” said Gunnigle. “Because when it comes to access to justice, there are so many people who have fallen through the cracks and who have just been lied to.”
According to a 2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, blacks are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possessing marijuana than whites “despite comparable rates of use.”
The report, titled “A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, 2020,” states, “Every single state was more likely to arrest blacks for marijuana possession, and in some states, blacks were likely to be arrested becoming was up to six, eight, or almost ten times higher. In 31 states, the racial differences were even greater in 2018 than in 2010. ”
Chin says Pima County has “no perfect records” of racist demographics related to cannabis arrests, but his quick search of the county’s database of marijuana-only cases showed there have been 9,600 of them since 1995. About 3,000 of these cases have no racial data, about 3,000 were white, and the other third are from Hispanic, black, and indigenous communities.
“We try to follow the defendant’s race in our database, but we have a lot of loopholes there,” he said. “We just don’t know.”
Chin stressed that Pima County has no intention of using the information posted on the site for anything other than expediting the deletion. However, if someone has an active warrant, immigration issues, or other complications, they should consult an attorney before filing petitions.
“We’re asking people to petition the website so we can delete their files. It’s not a trap, ”said Chin. “We ask for your email address and your address because we need to include that in the petition. But we’re not just trying to gather information about people so that we can use it against them. ”
On the flip side, Chin added that if someone has an open warrant or escaped from prison or some other legal complication, “we need to act,” he said.
“But if anyone has questions about their criminal or immigration status, they should speak to a lawyer,” he said.
While some petitions will be generated by the PCAO, most will respond to requests from petitioners. If the prosecution cannot provide clear and convincing evidence that the crime cannot be punished, it will be deleted when the petitioner makes a request.
“The lack of information is not blamed on the convict, but on the state,” said Chin. “Our offices are in liaison with the prosecutor, we liaise with the Superior Court and Justice Court, and I think everyone is interested in working together to make this as efficient and effective as possible.”
Gunnigle believes the most efficient and fairest way to do this would be with blanket erasure by prosecutors across the state.
“You should really acknowledge that it is unfair to ask people prosecuted for this unjust war on drugs to come forward and do it yourself, and it is much less work for them to find them,” she said . “It’s about money. It’s about resources. The time has come … I really don’t have much sympathy for people who say it’s too hard to repair the damage they’ve done. ”
Ultimately, eradication is about correcting the injustice created by the decades-long war on drugs and giving people who are otherwise no criminals a second chance.
“We’re doing this because the Arizona state people wanted the marijuana records to be deleted,” Chin said. “We cooperate on this because we think that it promotes public safety and gives people the opportunity to take stock and find a place to live and work and so on.”