On the eve of the opening of Connecticut’s first recreational marijuana retail shops, Gov. Ned Lamont publicly committed to fully implementing the state’s delayed “clean slate” law within the next year.
“We’re gonna get clean slate done. We’re gonna get it done as expeditiously as we can,” Lamont said Monday during a news conference at the Greater Hartford Reentry Welcome Center. The gathering was held to recognize the partial implementation of the law, which erases records for people with certain criminal convictions.
“I appreciate that they’ve been waiting 10 to 20 years, in many cases,” Lamont said about people still waiting for clean slate’s full application. “And this is going to be another six- to 12-month delay in terms of getting all those other felony-style convictions off their record.”
Lamont’s comments come as retail shops across the state prepare to sell marijuana legally on Tuesday. Simultaneously, approximately 44,000 people with cannabis-related misdemeanor cases have begun getting their records expunged as part of clean slate’s implementation.
Signed by the governor in 2021, the law will automatically erase criminal records of people seven years after the date of their conviction for a misdemeanor or 10 years after the date of their conviction for certain class D, class E or unclassified felonies if they have not been convicted of other crimes.
Any person with convictions prior to Jan. 1, 2000, must petition the court to erase their record.
But the Lamont administration waited until December — less than a month before full implementation — to publicly make known that erasures for the majority of the 280,000 people who would benefit from clean slate wouldn’t happen until the second half of 2023, citing outdated technology and outstanding legal and policy questions. The delay mainly affects Black residents with felony convictions.
“We’re going to do it when we can get it right and make sure they get their very best opportunity,” Lamont said Monday. “This is a pretty good start today, though, for 44,000 people.”
Standing near Lamont at the press conference was Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, who told reporters that if lawmakers have to take up any matters related to clean slate during the legislative session, he remains committed to doing so.
“We’re going to get this done, hopefully in a friendly way,” Winfield said. “But I think, you know, governor, you know who you’re dealing with. If it’s not friendly, we’re gonna get it done. Because it is important.”
In response to the governor’s public comments Monday, Dawn Grant-Lockley, who works with Congregations Organized For A New Connecticut’s criminal legal reform team, told the CT Mirror that her organization will do whatever it can to push clean slate across the finish line.
“We’re glad that the cannabis expungements happened,” Grant-Lockley said. “We don’t plan on slowing down. We will continue to advocate and speak up to Lamont and Lamont’s team to make sure we get this done sooner rather than later.”
The clean slate bill progressed through the 2021 legislature following pitched battles among lawmakers over which crimes should be eligible for expungement.
Those in opposition to early versions of the bill sought a narrow list of eligible crimes, rather than including more serious felonies as the House initially proposed. Lamont especially favored a tapered list of nonviolent crimes and said the list could expand after seeing results from the initial effort.
The governor signed the current bill during the summer of 2021. He doubled down on his support for the law in October while on the gubernatorial campaign trail and said the state was working to implement it. But in December, Lamont announced that full implementation of the law was going to be delayed, saying it would instead come in the latter half of 2023.
“Implementation involves significant information technology upgrades to allow criminal justice agencies to send and receive data to determine who can have their offenses erased and to update record systems,” read a press release from Lamont last month. “The information technology systems involved are complex, and some are outdated. In addition, significant interpretation issues may require clarification by the General Assembly this session.”
He did not expand on why the process was prolonged or why the delay was communicated just weeks before the beginning of the year.
At Monday’s news conference, Marc Pelka, undersecretary for Connecticut’s Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division, described the process of implementing clean slate as “iterative.”
“Connecticut has moved very quickly, relative to other states, to implement clean slate,” Pelka said. “It’s apparent that work is required to get it done along the way.”
Clean slate’s supporters have frequently highlighted the need to help people formerly convicted of crimes earn an education, maintain a job and attain housing — and to not punish them further when they have already faced consequences.
A study from Michigan, which passed a clean slate law in 2020, found that less than 1% of people who had a violent crime expunged from their records were reconvicted of another violent crime five years after they were cleared.
Advocates have also highlighted how race lies at the foundation of who’s punished and limited in access to basic needs in the state. Connecticut’s Black men have a 48% conviction rate, and both Black women and men are more than three times more likely than their white counterparts to have a felony conviction — despite accounting for less than 13% of the state population.
Grant-Lockley, who’s formerly incarcerated, said clean slate’s delay exemplifies why people behind bars have minimal trust in Connecticut and its officials.
“There’s no belief that the state of Connecticut is for us,” Grant-Lockley said about the mindset of some incarcerated people, and clean slate’s delay “says that we just don’t matter.”