Nearly two million people with low-level cannabis convictions in the US have received pardons or expungements in the past few years, according to new research from the marijuana reform advocacy organization NORML.
This analysis closely follows President Joe Biden’s move to mass pardon several thousand Americans convicted of federal cannabis possession offenses before urging governors across the country to do likewise. The vast majority of marijuana-related offenses occur at the state level, meaning widespread cannabis clemency falls under the purview of state officials.
In response, many governors announced plans to review and initiate pardon and expungement proceedings for low-level cannabis offenses, but NORML’s figures reveal that a lot of progress has already been made prior to Biden’s intervention.
In total, NORML’s analysis shows that state officials have issued around 100,000 pardons as well as 1.7 million expungements for cannabis offenses since 2018.
NORML goes on to note that two dozen states have enacted laws to facilitate the expungement of cannabis-related criminal records.
“Hundreds of thousands of Americans unduly carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that most Americans, and a growing number of states, no longer consider to be a crime,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano in a press statement. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that public officials and the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”
Here are some of the most notable efforts towards cannabis clemency that have been taken by state officials over the past few years.
Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) pardoned more than 15,000 individuals with low-level marijuana possession convictions.
Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced that up to 3,500 residents with misdemeanor cannabis convictions are eligible for an expedited pardon.
The day before the launch of legal adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 people convicted of low-level marijuana possession.
Gov. Jared Polis (D) has pardoned nearly 4,500 people previously convicted of possessing two ounces or less of marijuana.
Gov. Kate Brown recently announced plans to mass pardon marijuana possession offenses, with an estimated 45,000 people eligible for the relief.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) has issued hundreds of pardons for those convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses.
Expungements and record sealing
Through California’s cannabis legalization law, more than 200,000 convictions for marijuana offenses have been expunged. Gov. Gavin Newson (D) also recently signed new legislation into law that will expand the relief for a further 34,000 cases.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that nearly 500,000 expungements for marijuana offenses have been processed since the state legalized cannabis.
Since cannabis was initially decriminalized, more than 326,000 marijuana-related cases have been expunged or sealed.
Even prior to passing marijuana legalization legislation, New York had automatically expunged an estimated 200,000 cannabis possession convictions.
Since legalizing marijuana in 2021, the state has sealed the records of more than 64,000 simple marijuana possession convictions.