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Leaves of a cannabis plant are seen July 14, 2022. Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press, file

A proposal to seal past conviction records for minor marijuana offenses won the approval of a Maine legislative committee last week and now heads to the full Legislature.

The proposal, L.D. 2336, would effectively shield from public view minor offenses committed prior to the legalization of the drug. It was backed 11-3 by members of the Judiciary Committee and now advances to floor votes in the House and Senate.

“I think we’ve had people who have been unjustly incarcerated and had their lives destroyed by the war on drugs broadly, but also the war on cannabis specifically,” said Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who voted to support the bill. “Creating a pathway to seal records doesn’t make up for that, but it does potentially allow at least some people who were unjustly persecuted to move forward.”

The bill, which came forward in response to recommendations from the state’s Criminal Records Review Committee, would allow people with convictions for lower-level marijuana cultivating or possession to appeal to a court to have the records sealed.

The list of eligible offenses is limited to things that are now legal or were based on former statutes, and the crimes would need to have been committed prior to the legalization of marijuana in Maine in January 2017.

A majority of committee members rejected another bill, which resulted from the records review committee’s findings, that would allow people with low-level marijuana possession and cultivation crimes to have those records automatically sealed.


Ten committee members said that bill shouldn’t pass, while a bipartisan minority of four lawmakers backed passage of the bill with an amendment that the same list of marijuana-related crimes eligible for sealing by a judge would also be eligible for automatic sealing.

That proposal will still be voted on by the full Legislature.

The Maine Judicial Branch and State Bureau of Identification both testified against the automatic sealing bill, saying it would take significant time and resources to automatically seal the records in question. The Maine Press Association also testified against the bill.

Rep. Adam Lee, D-Auburn, said he was concerned about the logistics of enacting the bill and was moved by the press association’s argument that the automatic sealing of the records would be a First Amendment violation and reduce government transparency.

But Rep. Matthew Beck, D-South Portland, who voted with the minority, said he worries that the process of appealing to a judge would be easier for people who have greater access to information and legal representation.

“The people at the low end of the economic ladder who are struggling are likely going to be left out because they just don’t know about it,” he said.


A majority of the committee also voted this week to support two other bills that came out of recommendations from the records review group. One is L.D. 2218, which would remove the cap in current law that only allows adults ages 18 to 27 – not anyone older – to have minor criminal records sealed by a judge. They also endorsed L.D. 2252, which would establish the Criminal Records Review Committee as a permanent commission.

The committee was established in 2021 as a temporary body to explore ways to help people who have been convicted of crimes and served their sentences to become productive community members without their convictions holding them back.

Gov. Janet Mills submitted testimony against all four bills, though they have since undergone amendments. If the governor were to veto any of the bills, a two-thirds vote of the Legislature would be needed to override the veto.

Maine is one of at least 31 states that have legalized or decriminalized the recreational adult use of marijuana, and many of those states have since reexamined the way they treat criminal offenses related to the drug. About two dozen states have expungement or sealing laws specific to marijuana offenses.

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