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New Marijuana Law Could Mean Profound Changes for Individuals With Past Convictions

Heather Marie Brown

New Hampshire decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana - three-quarters or less of an ounce - in 2017. But many people in the state are still carrying criminal records from before the decriminalization of the drug.

Anew law creates a pathway for some of those people to clear their records.  Heather Marie Brown of Barnstead is one of the people who might benefit from the new law and she sat down with All Things Considered Host Peter Biello.

So can you talk a little bit about the charges that are currently on your record that could now be annulled?

I actually have a few different possession charges. They were accumulated over a 10 year period. All minor offenses that, in my opinion, I never should have been charged with to begin with. They range from, I don't know if this is correct terminology to use, but a small amount that would be used to pack a bowl with. And I was charged with possession for that. They found seeds and stems in the bottom of my purse once and I was charged for possession of marijuana. There have just been a couple of instances throughout my life where unfortunately I've been in situations where that has gotten me into a little bit of trouble.

And did you do time in prison for this?

Fortunately, no, I did not. I think with one of them, I did have to spend a few hours in holding while I awaited bail.

So just to clarify, you are now a patient for medical marijuana. But when you got these charges, you were not officially a patient.

No. Unfortunately, at that point in time, New Hampshire had not taken the steps forward to allow therapeutic cannabis within the state of New Hampshire. Thankfully, that changed a few years back. I was able to legally obtain a card for therapeutic purposes.  I don't want a criminal record to haunt me for the rest of my life for doing what I have always felt was best for my health.

And may I ask what you're using the medical marijuana to treat?

Yeah, I have extreme chronic pain. Unfortunately, I was involved in a few accidents and injuries. I also suffer from PTSD.

And what has the effect been of having these charges on your record?

It had always been a dream of mine since I was young to be able to pursue a career in the medical field. By the age of 17, before I even graduated high school, I was already a state licensed certified nursing assistant here in New Hampshire with a specialty in geriatric care. A couple of years later, my first cannabis arrest came and when I went to pursue my career, I learned that my conviction would hold up the process. I wasn't able to receive licensing throughout the state or able to receive funding for school and education needed to pursue that career. It even came into play when I would reach out for other job interviews.

So even before this bill became law, there were avenues that would have allowed you to possibly annul these charges from your record. Did you try that route?

I actually looked into it several different times because I noticed that every now and then changes would occur to the annulment process. And basically, what I learned was that it was going to be a very expensive and an extensive multi-step process that really couldn't even guarantee me a 50/50 shot as to whether or not the charges would actually be removed from my record. And unfortunately, since I was not able to pursue my career, it did not leave me in a good financial position. And the expense behind having it done was, in my opinion, astronomical. And just out of affordability for myself.

So how did you feel when the new law was passed?

I actually got extremely excited. If I could have done cartwheels where I was, I would have done cartwheels. So the governor signing this bill and going into law, I think that he actually took a huge step forward in supporting the future and the possibilities for myself and other New Hampshire residents. I give him kudos for that.

So once you get your charges annulled, what doors will be open to you that previously have been closed?

Well, I'm going to hopefully be able to continue on the path of a medical career. I've already started looking into getting my certification renewed.

So overall, Heather, how big a deal do you think this is for the state of New Hampshire?

I think that this has a huge impact. I know that I am only one of probably thousands of individuals that have been placed in a similar situation. And I think that this is going to open up so many doors and avenues for people. And I think that there's going to be nothing but positive effects felt throughout the state in certain communities.


Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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