A bill that would create a path for expunging criminal records tied to cases involving cannabis-related charges is on its way to the governor after both chambers of the Legislature approved the measure Wednesday.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 23-13, while the House of Representatives approved it 41-28.
While Senate Bill 2 does not eliminate conviction records, it would set up a system for reviewing and expunging criminal records from websites and other sources that are accessible to the public. It also requires a review and possible dismissal of cases involving people serving sentences for cannabis-related charges that would no longer be crimes if the state legalizes the possession and use of cannabis for adults 21 and over.
The bill's components were originally part of House Bill 2, a cannabis legalization measure that was still being debated on the Senate floor late Wednesday.
But some lawmakers asked for expungement provisions to be separated from HB 2.
Advocates say expunging records of minor cannabis-related crimes, which could hinder a person seeking employment or a professional license, is just as the state moves toward cannabis legalization.
The legislation states past offenses could not be used to bar a person from obtaining a job or a license.
Charges involving trafficking large amounts of the drug would not be eligible for expungement.
And under the bill, people who have been convicted of other crimes related to cannabis use — such as robbery or domestic abuse—could not have records of those crimes expunged.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee vetted the bill Tuesday, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, the committee chairman, questioned whether the state's court and penal systems have the time, resources and people to review all cases involving cannabis charges. He said he assumed there could be thousands.
Some committee members cited a 2019 TV news report that found just 108 New Mexicans were behind bars at the time for cannabis-related offenses. Cervantes said he found that number difficult to believe.
"You would think this was a big, big problem that we have thousands of people in prison for marijuana convictions," he said, given the intent of SB 2.
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