A new North Dakota program to expunge the records of low-level cannabis offenders has seen few takers so far, leading state officials wondering how to better get the word out. Under the program, offenders with convictions for minor marijuana crimes can receive a pardon and have their records cleared if they refrain from further unlawful behavior for five years.
The policy change was spearheaded by Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem as a way to ease the collateral damage caused by convictions for minor drug crimes, such as problems obtaining employment, housing, and educational benefits. The action was supported by fellow Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, who said that the change could help “address our state’s workforce shortage and grow the economy.”
Stenehjem has estimated that up to 175,000 North Dakotans convicted of minor crimes committed over several decades are eligible for the pardon program and could have their criminal records cleared. But in the months since the program was launched in July, less than three dozen people have applied.
“I’m rather surprised that so few people have applied,” said Stenehjem, who is also one of five members of the state’s pardon advisory board. “We will look at ways to get word out.”