ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As New Mexico’s courts grapple with expunging thousands of cannabis-related criminal charges, the state’s up-and-coming lawyers are looking to help locals clear their records. “We are able to help folks anywhere in New Mexico,” says Serge Martinez, a University of New Mexico (UNM) law professor. “We see this as not an Albuquerque thing. It’s a New Mexico thing and it’s important to everybody in New Mexico.”

For years, law students from New Mexico’s only law school have been gaining legal experience by helping locals with their legal problems. Now, they’re expanding their work on cannabis expungements, providing help for free when locals reach out needing help.

“The clinic is basically, it’s a law office that we run inside the law school that allows students the opportunity to get some practice being actual lawyers on real cases with real clients,” Martinez says. He says there are 40 to 50 law students working in the clinic—helping people free of charge.

“We first have to see how long it’s been since their arrest or conviction, and then we go through the process of obtaining their records and kind of sorting through all of those,” Laura Ingersol, a clinical law student at UNM, says. “And then it’s working on the petition to get the expungement filed.”

New Mexico’s courts have already automatically expunged thousands of records. But those that remain are cannabis charges tied up in trickier cases, with other charges. It’s these trickier cases that the UNM law clinic really likes.

“The more challenging ones are ones where the cannabis charge is wrapped in with a bunch of other charges,” Martinez says.

“We prefer, just from an intellectual challenge, standpoint, the ones that are more complicated because they allow us to really sink our teeth into them,” Professor Martinez explains. “But as a practical matter, virtually all of [the expungement cases] are complicated for the person who’s trying to get an expungement.”

This does beg the question: does this work of expunging a cannabis charge really help someone if they have other arrests and convictions on their record?

“Maybe it doesn’t solve all your problems. But we still think it makes things better for most people, even if it’s purely symbolic, and that’s good enough for us,” Martinez says.

“People do change and this is a good opportunity for them to show how they’ve changed, and it allows them to be able to move on,” says Madeline D’Arezzo, clinical law student at UNM, “Having a record can prevent you from being able to rent, being able to get loans, being able to get a job; and so, this is a really good opportunity to help people.”

The law clinic is open to taking calls from people who want to get their records expunged. The clinic might not be able to help everyone, but Martinez says they help as many as they can.

“There are private lawyers who do this. And for the folks who can afford them, that’s great that they’re getting that service, and everyone benefits. But there are a lot of folks who can’t afford to go private attorney, and they’re the ones who probably need this the most,” Martinez says.

To try to reach more people, the clinic recently got a van to bring expertise to people who can’t reach the UNM campus.

“During the pandemic, we’ve been stuck close to home. But we would like to spread the word to the rest to the state of New Mexico,” Martinez says. “We are hoping to be able to drive around and go to places and talk to folks about their rights, and the process, and potential eligibility [for expungement].”

Martinez says people can also call the clinic at (505) 277-5265 if they have questions or want to try to get help.