Efforts to Expunge Cannabis Criminal Charges Underway Across the Country

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As cannabis legalization expands, calls to clear the records of individuals convicted of low to mid-level possession are growing across the nation. Cities such as San Francisco have already expunged the criminal records of over 8,000 residents.

Now, momentum for other cities and states appears to be building. After becoming the eleventh state to legalize recreational use, other aspects of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act are being publicized, including the fact that close to 800,000 residents will have the chance to expunge previous cannabis criminal charges. Those with convictions of 30g or less will automatically have their records cleared. For individuals convicted of possession between 30g and 500g, they will have to petition the courts to expunge their records. 

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Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a national cannabis reform advocacy group lobbied for both recreational legalization and for residents to have the opportunity to expunge their records of cannabis criminal charges.

“We applaud the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Pritzker on this resounding victory for personal liberty, racial justice, and common sense,” Steve Hawkins, executive director for MPP said in a statement.MPP was honored to work hand-in-hand with elected leaders to craft a law ending cannabis prohibition, in a way that begins to remedy the devastation of communities targeted by the war on drugs. Illinois’ focus on fairness and equity in legalization should be a model for other states.”

Residents with prior marijuana convictions will also have the chance to apply for a cannabis business license under a social equity program. Often, applicants are blocked from legally entering the industry because of previous possession convictions, however, there exists a significant racial disparity among these arrests as caucasians are significantly less likely to be charged and convicted of cannabis possession.

Additional efforts to expunge cannabis convictions are underway in a city about 2,000 miles west of Illinois. The city of Fresno, California, has announced a plan to help residents understand the process of seeking expungement. Fresno County Public Defenders Office is working with the National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance (NDICA) and Element 7 to host a workshop designed to help residents understand how they can expunge cannabis criminal charges. 

“We encourage the community to come take advantage of the opportunity to clear their criminal convictions and begin to overcome the obstacles to better jobs, housing, and other benefits,” Carmen Romero, an attorney with the Fresno Public Defenders Office Clean Slate Program said.

Prop. 64, the ballot initiative approved by voters in 2016 to legalize recreational cannabis use allows for residents to pursue expungement of marijuana charges. So far, only 89 individuals in California’s vast Central Valley have attempted to clear their records of cannabis criminal charges. The NDICA is hoping to spread awareness of the process.

“We see expungement as a tremendous opportunity to create meaningful change at a very micro level within the community… Fresno—with its fertile land, ample sunshine, California location, and relatively low cost—can become a major leader of the cannabis and hemp market, creating thousands of new jobs,” Lynne Lyman, former California State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said according to Fox26 News.

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