A low-level drug possession should not carry a lifelong stain and be a barrier to employment or loans, a clear Cincinnati Council majority approved a new law to try to remedy that situation.
By an 8-1 vote with Republican Amy Murray as the lone dissenter, the council adopted the ordinance which will take effect in one month.
There will be considerable research and work ahead of any actual sealing of criminal records.
The new city law would mean most eyes, not all but most would no longer be able to see an individual’s pot convictions for 100 grams which is equivalent to three ounces or less.
City lawmakers are motivated to seal those records so they cannot be used against someone who is applying for a job, a student loan, a license, or a housing opportunity.
It’s important to note the distinction between expungement of a record and a sealing of a record.
The former suggests an erasure, a wiping clean as if the conviction or allegation never existed in the first place.
The latter suggests retention of the record itself, but no access to the information except in certain cases.
“You cannot get an OVI sealed. You cannot get a first-degree domestic violence sealed,” said Ray Faller, who heads the public defender’s office.
He pointed out it’s not like your 100-gram conviction is removed the way a clothing stain is simply removed with a spray bottle, and it’s no longer visible.
It’ll be a matter of access.
“They’re not expunged in the sense they’re shredded,” explained Faller. “It’s like they’re put in a locked cabinet.”
Faller called it a good idea in theory but wondered about the mechanics of it.
“The city itself can’t expunge the records. Somebody’s got to go into court. I don’t know if they’re going to have people do it pro se by themselves or if they’re going to hire attorneys for people to do it. I just don’t know how that’s going to be carried out.”
First, the city administration will hire a third party to identify who is eligible.
Then those people will be contacted, and it’ll be up to them to decide if they will apply.
If they do, they’ll have to go to a court for consideration by a judge.
David Mann, an attorney who’s on the council, says the records would still exist and in certain situations could be seen by others.
“The record is sealed, and in some circumstances, it can be reopened,” stated Mann.
“For instance, boards of education are entitled to have the information because there’s a special concern about those who come into contact with children.”
As for the precise time frame and steps to apply, stay tuned.
We don’t know yet. This is the ordinance that says, please do this, city administration. We look to the city administration to hire an employee to establish a process.”
That process would begin next summer and likely affect thousands of people, although a hard, accurate count is unknown right not.
There’s a mountain of research ahead.
From the floor of council, Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman said “We don’t know what the cost is going to be. This is an X-factor because we don’t know how many people have been impacted by this.”
Smitherman, Mann, and Jeff Pastor lead this effort.
An independent, a Democrat and a Republican.
“I’ll tell you now the vast majority of folks in my party do not support the decriminalizing of marijuana, that sort of thing,” said Pastor.
“However, they do support folks making billions of dollars off of marijuana that was just illegal.”