Cannabis Expungements Status in U.S.

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It is essential the legalization of cannabis in the United States not only reshapes the future of the industry, but amends past offenses in the legal and penal systems. Due to the inordinately high number of people serving jail time and probation periods solely for cannabis convictions, expediting expungement must be kept in the limelight. As an insight, over 6 million cannabis-related arrests were made between 2010 and 2018, per the ACLU. Learn more about upcoming cannabis expungement bills in Illinois and beyond.  

Cannabis Expungement Bills in the U.S.

Overall, many states have enacted legislation plainly permitting or facilitating the process of expunging, vacating, or sealing cannabis records from public view. In some states, the review and expungement process is performed automatically by local jurisdictions. These include California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Vermont. Additional states, such as Arizona, require those with past convictions to actively petition their officials for an expungement on their own account. New Hampshire allows the annulment process for certain offenders, Nevada and Virginia permit certain marijuana-related convictions to be sealed, and North Dakota has mandated those with certain convictions may be eligible for unconditional pardons from a state advisory board.

To further understand the process, it is key to understand the meanings of the terminology used. An expungement is the removal or destruction of one’s record completely as if the record never existed. Similarly, sealing a record means removing it from public record, therefore deeming it inaccessible to those conducting background checks, like potential employers. Although both are hidden, a sealed record still exists and may be unsealed via court order.

Boosts to Cannabis Expungement in Illinois and More

Generally, the process of expungement has been slow and frustrating to many but the clearing of their record has been life changing. As an understanding into numbers, the Illinois cannabis expungement process automatically expunged 572,000 minor cannabis offenses, with another 119,000 open for pardon by petition or expungement. In late September 2021, the Los Angeles County District Attorney announced the office had identified 58,000 cannabis convictions to be dismissed. In New Jersey, July 1st marked the beginning of the state’s expungement process of over 362,000 cannabis cases; nearly 1,200 people have already been released from probation.

Meanwhile, a cannabis expungement bill is being worked on a federal level. On September 30th, a key House committee approved a bill that would, among other things, remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and allow people with cannabis convictions to have their records expunged. It also contains language to create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for cannabis offenses, protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over marijuana and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act cleared the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by the legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), on a 26-15 vote. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) noted “this is an important criminal justice reform bill, and I commend the chairman for once again introducing this bill and bringing it before the committee. In fact, it consolidates the discussions that we’ve had about the over-incarceration of individuals who were addicted or caught up in the cycle of drugs, many of them people of color in inner-city neighborhoods.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is a co-sponsor, also made the case for reform. “I am a proud co-sponsor of the MORE Act because the federal government has screwed up marijuana policy in this country for a generation,” he said. “We lied to people about the effects of marijuana. And then we used marijuana as a cudgel to incarcerate just wide swaths of communities, and particularly in African-American communities. We cannot honestly say that the War on Drugs impacted suburban white communities in the same way it affected urban Black communities… We have an opportunity to fix that problem.” he said.

Social Equity Groups

Groups across the country are also involved in helping those with cannabis convictions expunge and seal their records. Project Clean Slate is a social justice program that provides expungement services for select marijuana-related charges to individuals (18+) in qualifying states, as well as social service support, workforce readiness education, industry participation opportunities, and more by partnering with national and local organizations. During the month of September, Goodness Growth Holdings hosted the first-ever Cannabis Expungement Month by leading four expungement clinics in Minnesota, Maryland and New York to assist people with the expungement of their nonviolent cannabis charges.

How does expungement status affect your business? CannaCon is the ultimate resource for answers to questions such as these! As the nation’s leading business-to-business cannabis conference, the goal of CannaCon is to grow the cannabis industry by education through large exhibition trade shows along with industry expert-led seminars. The next event is on November 19th and 20th at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.

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