Missouri court officials have expunged the cannabis-related criminal records of more than 3,500 residents since the state’s marijuana legalization law took effect on December 8, 2022.
The reform to Missouri’s marijuana laws, which legalizes possession, licensed sales and personal-use cultivation of cannabis for adults 21 and older, compels the state’s judicial system to expunge prior cannabis misdemeanors and felonies that are now legal. While court officials have until June 8, 2023, to finalize misdemeanor expungements and until December 8, 2023, to complete felony expungements, data from the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrators (OSCA) shows the process is already well underway.
The only cannabis-related offenses that will not be expunged in Missouri are those that involve violence, supplying to a minor, or driving under the influence.
As of mid-January, 2,340 expungements had been completed in 25 Missouri counties and just over a week later this number had risen to 3,518. The progress comes in spite of the fact that additional funding to facilitate cannabis-related expungements has not yet been made available from Missouri’s general fund.
Action on marijuana criminal justice reform has accelerated in recent months following President Joe Biden’s announcement of mass federal cannabis pardons and his urging of governor’s to follow suit.
However, expungements provide much more substantive relief for individuals with cannabis convictions than pardons. Expungements remove and seal all public records of the case so it can not be used by law enforcement or prosecuting attorneys, nor used as a reason to deny federal or state services such as education, employment or housing.
As stated in Missouri’s Constitution, those who are granted an expungement, “shall be treated in all respects as if he or she had never been arrested, convicted or sentenced for the offense, and the conviction and sentence shall be vacated as legally invalid.”
A recent analysis by NORML revealed that more than two million cannabis convictions had been pardoned or expunged across the US in just five years. While the first states that legalized marijuana did not include provisions to expunge prior cannabis convictions, more and more states that have recently legalized marijuana now ensure such language is included as awareness of the importance of reckoning with the harms of cannabis criminalization continues to spread.