During the 1970s and 1980s, lawmakers passed “tough on crime” policies during the so-called War on Drugs. As a result, America saw a 61 percent increase in our incarcerated population. Today, there are now 2.3 million Americans behind bars.
To make matters worse, people of color are disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses in our criminal justice system. Almost one in three people arrested for drug law violations are African American, even though drug use rates do not differ significantly by race or ethnicity. In some cities, African Americans are ten times more likely to be arrested when stopped by police. With the national debate focused on race, crime, and punishment, many states—including Nevada—are examining how to reduce incarceration, recidivism, and racial disparities in our prisons and jails.
After years of heavy-handed sentencing and burdensome incarceration costs, states around the country began to revisit how their criminal justice systems treat controlled substances, and more specifically marijuana. In 2016, Nevada voters approved Ballot Question 2, the Initiative to Regulate and Tax Marijuana in a similar manner to alcohol. As a result, on January 1, 2017, marijuana became legal in Nevada for adults 21 years of age or older to possess and consume for personal, recreational use.
Since the passage of the ballot measure, revenues from marijuana taxes have outpaced monthly and annual projections. According Nevada’s Department of Taxation, total marijuana tax revenues for Fiscal Year 2018 were $69.76 million, over 28 percent above forecast. Breaking that down, the Wholesale Marijuana Tax, which is paid by cultivators on both medical and adult-use marijuana, contributed $27.27 million. The Retail Marijuana Tax, which is paid by consumers on adult-use marijuana purchases, contributed $42.49 million to the total. Last year, the Department was able to allocate $27.5 to the Distributive School Account, which funds our public school system, by drawing from the fiscal year’s marijuana-related tax revenues. In addition to revenues generated, the marijuana industry in Nevada supports 8,300 full-time jobs, along with approximately $443.3 million in direct, indirect, and induced labor income.
Jurisdictions have seen the benefits of decriminalization and legalization, and now more and more states are following suit. Nevada, along with twenty-one other states and the District of Columbia, has decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.
Now it’s time to correct the past. In the last four years, at least ten states have passed laws addressing expungement of certain marijuana convictions. Last year, 11 more states considered legislation that would affect expungement of certain marijuana convictions. In most of these states, expungement measures pair with other policies to decriminalize or legalize. And now, it’s time for Nevada to do the same. That is why I have decided to introduce the Nevada Second Chance Act, also known as Assembly Bill 192. This bill would allow individuals to seal criminal records if the offenses are no longer illegal under state law.
There are reasons why I believe sealing these types of records is the logical next step we should take as we move forward. Firstly, the citizens of this state chose to legalize both medical and recreational use marijuana, so it is unfair to leave decriminalized offenses lingering on Nevadans’ criminal records. Moreover, a criminal record often impedes a person’s ability to obtain credit, get an apartment, or secure reliable employment. It could also prevent someone from serving on a jury, voting, and lawfully possessing a firearm. This bill would help Nevadans get back on their feet. Finally, the Nevada Second Chance Act would remove the stigma of having a criminal record from those whose only offense is attributable to something that is no longer a crime.
Together, we can help Nevadans improve their lives by allowing them to seal records of decriminalized offenses. That is why I ask citizens across the state and my colleagues in the legislature who believe in the power of a fresh start to support of Assembly Bill 192.