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Oregon lawmakers want to speed up the process for wiping away weed convictions

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BY REED ANDREWS, KATU

PORTLAND, Ore. (CIRCA via KATU) — Oregon legislators say they'll work during this year's session to speed up the process of expunging pot convictions from low-level offenders prior to its legalization in 2015.

Democratic State Sen. Floyd Prozanski says there are likely two paths the legislature will take.

"What we're trying to figure out is how do we put it into effect?" Prozanski said. "Is it across the board and no one has to go back to court?"

Prozanski says that option may be costly due to the administrative costs of having court staff throughout the state go through people's records and expunge any minor pot convictions.

"We may get pushback on having multiple offenders get their convictions wiped out," Prozanski added.

Nkenge Harmon Johnson, president of the Urban League of Portland, says expunging pot convictions is her group's "no. 1 legislative priority this session."

"There are a lot of reasons for it, and it's housing-related. People who have everything else but cannot access housing because of this," Harmon Johnson said. "We're trying to have that as a unifying issue."

Across the country, arrests and convictions of cannabis have disproportionately impacted communities of color, Harmon Johnson says. Oregon is no different. She says the Urban League has gotten pushback in the past from district attorneys who say the process of going through every pot conviction is too time consuming.

Attorney Michael Zhang, who works out of Multnomah County's Metropolitan Public Defenders Office, says finding people who qualify for their free expungement service has been a challenge.

"The ethos of this project is to reach people where they're at instead of making them come downtown to the office where you're at," Zhang said.

Zhang says some expungement services cost upwards of $1,100. He's looking to raise awareness for people who may qualify for his free service, since the process only takes 15 minutes. He's working with people throughout the African-American community in Portland to set up expungement booths at cannabis-related events throughout Multnomah County.

"Some people think that if your record is over 10 years old that it automatically goes away; that's not true," Zhang said.

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