State officials on Wednesday formally forgave more than 15,000 misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions notched during the three decades before recreational cannabis was legalized in Nevada, although there’s still much for people to do to fully clear their slates.
The Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners, chaired by Gov. Steve Sisolak, voted unanimously to approve a resolution pardoning the decriminalized offense. Records show that 15,592 were convicted of the misdemeanor from 1986 through the end of 2016, and there were 31,124 arrested for the offense. Recreational use became legal in 2017.
“Today is an historic day for those who were convicted of what has long been considered a trivial crime, and is now legal under Nevada law,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Many Nevadans have had these minor offenses remain on their records, in some cases as a felony. This resolution aims to correct that and fully restore any rights lost as a result of these convictions.”
But the pardon is only a first step to removing the consequences of a conviction. People who want to get formal documentation that they have been pardoned must obtain a copy of their judgment of conviction from a court, or a copy of their criminal history — a request they must mail in along with a $27 check or money order. Requestors are told to allow 45 days for processing.
Then, that information and an application for the pardon must be mailed to the pardons board, which includes the governor, attorney general and members of the Nevada Supreme Court. The secretary of the board processes the information and if approved, the petition will be signed by the pardons board.
The applicant will then receive the document certifying the pardon and a certified copy will be sent to the court where the person was convicted.
Record sealing, which would block the pardoned conviction from showing up on a background check, is an entirely different process outside the scope of the pardons board.
Attorney Kristina Wildeveld testified that the process is “extremely tedious” and some lawyers charge up to $2,500 for the service, which sometimes requires an applicant to show up in person to a court. She requested that action be taken to ensure the process is more automatic.
Justice Mark Gibbons noted there was an applicant recently who was pardoned for a petty theft from years ago and needed her records sealed to get a nursing certificate. He said he was “shocked” at the hurdles she had to go through, and that she nearly lost a job offer that was on the table in the meantime.
"We absolutely need this court to adopt a uniform rule that cuts this red tape, because this is a critical part of your suggestion here to grant these pardons,” he said. “And to get bogged down in record sealing — what have we accomplished?”
Attorney General Aaron Ford indicated it would be more expedient if the court adopted a rule than if the Legislature worked on the issue of making the process simpler.
Other resources are available to help people clear their record of the decriminalized offense. Lawyer Dayvid Figler said Legal Aid of Southern Nevada has a packet with forms for record sealing that could help people through the process without hiring a lawyer, and that includes forms so people could apply to have filing fees waived.
Sisolak urged the legal community that had celebrated the broad pardon to “spring into action” to help people complete the steps needed to realize the full benefits of the pardon.
“There’s a lot of individuals here that are going to need your help. They’re not proficient at maneuvering through this legal system,” he said. “And when I hear 15,000 applications coming forward, I do not want them to fall victim to somebody who wants to charge them a whole bunch of money to do this.”