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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

With Marijuana Felony Expunged, Oregon Man Has 'Tears Of Joy'

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network
Tim McClure owns a small ranch near The Dalles, Oregon.

When Tim McClure was 42 years old, he was convicted of illegally growing marijuana on his ranch near The Dalles, Oregon. And at this time last year, McClure was living with the shame of being a felon.

"I don't think it's the measure of me as a man,” McClure said 2015.

He said it was supposed to be a small grow for some medical marijuana patients but ended up being a little larger than planned. He pled guilty and was fined, but never served any time behind bars.

In the years since then he stayed out of trouble with the law. But his business failed, his marriage fell apart and some of his friends never spoke to him again.

McClure said the conviction was a weight he just couldn't shake off.

"I'm an unlikely convicted felon, I think,” McClure said last year. “I think after 15 years there ought to be some remedy available to me."

It turns out, after 16 years, there was.

‘A watershed moment’

Now that recreational marijuana use is legal, Oregonians with pot convictions have been taking advantage of another new law -- one that makes it easier to get marijuana felonies erased.

"I had tears of joy. It still brings tears to my eyes thinking about it,” McClure said referring to the day he opened his mail to see a letter from his attorney. His application to have his felony marijuana conviction expunged had been approved.

"It was a watershed moment for me,” McClure said.

The expungement means McClure can now legally say he's never been convicted of a crime. His criminal record has been sealed. To test out his new freedom, McClure went to a gun store and tried to buy a gun...something you can't do if you're a felon.

"I stood there on pins and needles wondering if they were going to call out over the loudspeaker that I failed my background check,” McClure said. “I finally eventually left the store because I was too nervous."

It took almost two hours but eventually the call came: He owned a new handgun.

Opening doors to thousands

So how did McClure go from a down-on-his-luck felon to an ex-con with no criminal record?

He did it thanks to a law passed by the 2015 Oregon legislature. It allows people with marijuana-related felonies to get their slates wiped clean if the crimes they were convicted of are no longer illegal.

Portland attorney Sandi Pellikaan handled McClure's case.

"The correct legal terminology is to set aside,” Pellikaan explained. “You set aside the record of the conviction and seal the arrest."

Pellikaan said people who want their records expunged can't have had any other criminal convictions in the past 10 years.

The process had already been available to people with lesser marijuana offenses. But the new law opens the doors to potentially thousands more people. State officials say the number who've applied so far is much lower than that.

Pellikaan said clients who've successfully had their marijuana felonies sealed tell her they've had an easier time getting a job, getting an apartment, or are able to travel to Canada.

“That's another big one,” Pellikaan said.

McClure said he never met Pellikaan, but he said if he did, he'd go up and give her a hug. At 58 years-old, he said, the expungement has given him a new lease on life.

"I'm not going to be defined by the 16 years that I was a felon,” McClure said. “I want to be defined by who I was before the felony and what I am and what I will become after the felony."

It cost McClure about $1,000 in application fees and legal bills to get his record sealed. He said it was the best thousand dollars he ever spent.