Montana state officials have established a special drug court that will have sole responsibility for reviewing past cannabis convictions for expungement.
Under the marijuana legalization ballot measure approved by voters last year and since enacted into law, individuals with past cannabis convictions can petition the courts for expungement or resentencing.
State officials think that a special court that’s only concerned with these petitions will help facilitate timely expungements for those burdened with marijuana convictions for offenses that are now legal in Montana.
The newly-created court is anticipated to start work early next year.
State Supreme Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin addressed state lawmakers in formally announcing the new court and said court staff are currently at work drawing up guidelines for individuals representing themselves.
“If somebody comes into court and they’re petitioning the court to do something and they don’t know exactly what the statute requires them to ask for, it’s going to take more of the judge’s time, and it’s just going to clog things up even more,” McLaughlin said.
To expunge a past cannabis conviction, Montanans must petition their local district court. So far, since Montana legalized recreational cannabis, around 135 people have filed such petitions which, according to McLaughlin, is considerably less than was anticipated.
More than a dozen states now have legislation in place permitting individuals with marijuana-related convictions to either seal the records or have them expunged. In the past year, state officials across California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia have sealed the criminal records of an estimated two million people with prior cannabis convictions.
A comfortable 60 percent majority of Montanans approved the marijuana legalization ballot measure last year. Since January 1, 2021, adults 21 and older in Montana can now legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow up to four plants for personal use. For now, it’s not possible to legally purchase marijuana in Montana, but adult-use dispensaries are expected to open for business on January 1, 2022, after Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill to legalize retail sales into law in June.