Politics & Other Mistakes: Joint session

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If you smoked pot back before it was legal, got caught by the cops, and were hauled before a judge, there’s a record of that. Fortunately for you, that record is stored in the archives of the Maine judicial system, where it’s unlikely ever again to be seen by a human being.

The state’s courts only recently acknowledged the invention of the computer, so your old conviction for a minor marijuana-related infraction was recorded on a piece of paper, which is a flimsy sheet of processed wood pulp that Neanderthals used before they discovered that chiseling things in stone was more efficient.

The disposition of your case was then placed in a file folder labeled with a docket number and a slight misspelling of your name. This folder was stuffed in a file cabinet organized either by the number, your name, or your zodiac sign, after which it was locked in a broom closet with old law books, moth-eaten judges’ robes, and coffee cups printed with the slogan “My Dad Went to Jail and All I Got Was This Lousy Mug.”

In short, no one is ever going to find out you once cruised downtown with a couple doobies in your jacket pocket.

Nevertheless, some people (who, I’m sure, have nothing whatsoever to feel guilty about) are asking the Legislature to pass a bill that would seal those records nobody can locate, so there’s no chance they’ll ever surface to embarrass the former stoners, who are now responsible adults who only indulge in legal grass.

“To state it simply, if there is no victim, there is no crime,” Republican state Rep. Justin Fecteau of Augusta told a hearing of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee earlier this month. “It’s just weed, bro.”

Fecteau has a reasonable point – up to a point.

Shutting down access to records of even minor crimes may protect reputations, but it’s not always clear those reputations deserve protection. Career criminals won’t suffer any harm if it’s learned that before they took to mayhem and plunder, they indulged in the pleasures of THC. Anti-fun crusaders may not appreciate having it known that one time after church they were discovered by police in a room full of sweet-smelling smoke with several partially clad companions of ambiguous sexuality. But a little hypocrisy is clarifying for the image. Mom and Dad will have to admit their claim that marijuana leads to heroin addiction is fiction, because they never used a needle, particularly after they got busted.

A blanket seal on all these records goes too far in restricting the public’s right to know. On the other hand, opponents of this measure have an even worse idea.

The Maine Press Association (motto: Stubbornly Clinging to the Idea Printing on Paper is Better than Chiseling in Stone) supports having old convictions reviewed on a case-by-case basis to see if they merit being kept secret. Judy Meyer, the executive editor of the Lewiston Sun Journal, Morning Sentinel in Waterville, and Kennebec Journal in Augusta, told the committee this method would “represent an important balancing test in our judicial system, where requests for seal are evaluated in context with the age, actions and criminal history of each petitioner.”

In other words, rich folks, prominent politicians, or anyone who happens to be friends with a judge would have their records hidden away, while average former tokers would still be subject to exposure and public ridicule. The president of the bank would rest easy with an unsullied reputation, while the guy who works at the car wash gets hosed.

The best solution to keeping ancient missteps from resurfacing is no solution at all.

If the state’s courts can be relied upon for anything, it’s that they won’t be reliable when it comes to locating records from the pre-computer era, which only ended about two weeks ago. Finding anything before that is like searching for the Ark of the Covenant.

Rather than pass unnecessary legislation, everybody should just relax and take a deep breath.

Hold it. Hold it. Exhale.

Problem solved.

Don’t Bogart your opinion, bro. Pass it on by emailing [email protected].

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