Minors arrested for alcohol and marijuana charges often face long-term legal implications that can follow them for years.
Assembly Bill 158, which was introduced earlier this month at the Nevada Legislature, will help provide second chances, the bill’s supporters say.
“I have seen far too many people, especially Black and brown youth in our community receiving a criminal record long before they even get their first job,” said Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, a Southern Nevada Democrat, who introduced the bill this month in the Assembly Committee on Judiciary.
Under current law, minors who get caught with alcohol or less than 1 ounce of marijuana could face a misdemeanor conviction that may include a jail sentence of up to six months and/or a $1,000 fine.
The proposal calls removing the charge and fine, and instead making the offense akin to a minor traffic violation — with no jail time. The records of offenders between the ages of 18 and 21 would be sealed once court requirements were met.
The penalties were still being discussed by lawmakers and other stakeholders, such as Nevada prosecutors.
For children, the first offense would lead to community service that doesn’t exceed 24 hours. In a second offense, the court could order the offender to attend a panel in which they meet and speak to victims of crimes, such as DUI. Third and subsequent offenses would allow the court to seek an evaluation of the child to refer to additional resources.
The intention of the bill, lawmakers and supporters stressed, is to avoid the school-to-prison pipeline that can be triggered with a simple mistake, and which is hard to escape once a child gets in trouble with the law.
It will “offer a second chance to those folks who may have just made a bad decision or maybe (were) in bad company,” said A’Esha Goins, a cannabis policy expert who helped introduce the legislation.
Pediatrician Carmen Jones testified about the trauma that can be inflicted by being detained or jailed, especially at a young age, and how Black and Hispanic youth are disproportionately affected.
She cited a 2019 statistical report from the Clark County Department of Juvenile Justice Services that showed that out of 1,009 referrals made for possession of marijuana, in which about 80% of the offenders were Black or Hispanic.
The report didn’t break down the consequences of those referrals.
“While I understand that laws are made for a reason, I’m concerned there is inequity in how the current law is applied,” Jones told lawmakers. “I don’t believe that those offenders, of any color, should be referred to detention.”
About the traumatic experience of being locked up, she said: “Now imagine that to be a child, imagine being a disenfranchised youth, imagine being a privileged adolescent or even a well-to-do adult.”
The punishment to those caught with the substances, which are legal in Nevada for those 21 and older are “excessive and counterproductive to the development of these young people and to the Nevada communities as a whole,” said Pastor Anthony Davis, a licensed clinical social worker and alcohol and drug counselor.
The bill hasn’t been brought to the floor for vote. According to the hearing, Nevada prosecutors and lawmakers were to continue ironing out its details.
No one spoke in opposition.