Gov. Steve Sisolak said he is bringing a resolution up for discussion among the state’s Board of Pardons Commissioners to pardon people convicted of possessing less than one ounce of marijuana — something that was legalized through a statewide vote in 2016.
“The people of Nevada have decided that possession of small amounts of marijuana is not a crime,” Sisolak said. “If approved, this resolution will clear the slate for thousands of people who bear the stigma of a conviction for actions that have now been decriminalized.”
A copy of the resolution was not immediately available, but Sisolak’s office said it covers people convicted of having marijuana without an intent to sell it.
While a pardon does not overturn a judgment of conviction, it restores rights that may have been revoked as a result of a conviction, such as the right to vote, the right to hold office, the right to serve on a jury or the right to work in a certain profession.
Attorney Kristina Wildeveld, who is active before the pardons board and said this spring that she was tasked with reviewing records to see who might be eligible, has said that a pardon can take an offense off a person’s record. That could help people including undocumented immigrants, who can face deportation based on misdemeanors,
or those asked to disclose convictions on occupational license or housing applications.
On Thursday, Wildeveld said she wasn’t sure what process Sisolak would propose, but expected it would address another key step in the process of eliminating the lingering effects of a conviction — record sealing. A pardon and record sealing are separate actions, and the latter would ensure a conviction doesn’t still appear on background checks and bring about consequences even if it has technically been pardoned.
“I do not think that his intention would be for people to have a group get in line or get an attorney,” to seal their records, she said.
One potential hurdle to an across-the-board pardon could be if a person’s conviction is listed in court records as “drug possession” but it’s not clear absent research into the person’s case file whether the drug was marijuana or something that is still illegal, such as cocaine.
The State Board of Pardons Commissioners consists of Sisolak, the justices on the Nevada Supreme Court and Attorney General Aaron Ford. On the panel, Sisolak has more authority than the other members.
The pardons board is also scheduled to discuss a modest recommendation made by the Nevada Sentencing Commission to fast-track implementation of a geriatric parole law already set to take effect July 1. The recommendation came after the commission failed to advance a more broad proposal aimed at reducing the prison population to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Sisolak has hinted that he thought the board might go further than that and would be open to a broader discussion, saying on April 30 that “I will read the letter [from the Sentencing Commission] and confer with my staff, some of the judicial community, and ask if we should move forward with just that or if we should expand on that.”
But his office did not say whether he plans to propose something more sweeping at the meeting next week. State officials report that as of Thursday, 36 people within Nevada Department of Corrections facilities have tested positive for COVID-19, including seven inmates and 29 staffers.
Updated at 8:09 p.m. on June 11, 2020 to add comment from Kristina Wildeveld.