With recreational marijuana use about to become legal in Vermont, several dozen people convicted in Chittenden County under the old rules headed to court in Burlington Tuesday to request those convictions be erased.
"I'm really excited for kind of a second chance," said Casey Bonneau of Burlington.
Bonneau sought that second chance on what was called "expungement day" in the criminal courthouse serving Chittenden County.
People with low-level marijuana offenses could apply to have those crimes erased from their records. The Pennywise Foundation even helped cover paperwork fees.
Bonneau said he wants to shed a misdemeanor pot possession conviction.
"I felt like it was holding me back applying for jobs — even applying for a place to rent," Bonneau said in response to a question from necn about the impact of his marijuana conviction. "Some people don't want to rent to someone who has a possession charge on their record."
Expungement day happened in advance of changes to Vermont law coming July 1.
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People 21 and up will legally be able to use recreational marijuana in private, possess up to an ounce of it and grow a few plants at home.
However, pot sales will still be barred, and furnishing marijuana to someone under age will be a crime.
"Since the values of our community are changing, we're kind of going back and trying to repair some of the damage that past policies have done," said Tom Dalton, the executive director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, a non-profit that helped promote the education event in Burlington as well another this past weekend in Windsor County.
Glyn Wilkinson of Shelburne said he came to the expungement day event to have two misdemeanor possession convictions cleared from his record. One of them was from 50 years ago, the 70-year-old said.
Wilkinson added that his past would occasionally haunt him, resurfacing, for example, at border checkpoints when traveling to Canada.
"I'm not a criminal," Wilkinson told necn. "This has been on my record for half a century. Imagine that? Half a century."
"It's heartbreaking to think about the impacts that that had on them at such a young age," Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George said of participants in her office's expungement day event — many of whom were convicted of marijuana crimes shortly after high school. "Getting these when you're coming out of high school means no federal funding — no student loans — potentially no college, maybe not as good of a job. It follows you in so many different ways."
George said even if people missed the special expungement day event at the Costello Courthouse, her office will gladly help with paperwork at any time moving forward.
The prosecutor added that she encourages people in other Vermont counties to contact their local state's attorney and ask about having minor marijuana convictions erased from their criminal record.