Increasingly, the marijuana reform movement in the US is not just concerned with legalizing cannabis at the state and federal level.
There is now also a strong focus on remedying the historic and present-day harms of cannabis prohibition through provisions in marijuana legalization legislation that promote social equity and restorative justice.
Social equity means taking steps to ensure that the benefits of a legal marijuana industry are felt equally across society. This often entails giving priority for cannabis business licenses, among other measures, to marginalized individuals, groups and communities that all too often bore the brunt of prohibition law enforcement.
Restorative justice, meanwhile, refers to legal measures taken to wipe the slate clean for individuals with prior cannabis-related convictions, or who are currently serving time for offenses that are now legal at the state-level.
Expungement of cannabis-related convictions is one such example of restorative justice, and more and more states are now including provisions to facilitate expungements in marijuana reform legislation.
What does expungement mean?
Expungement is a legal term meaning that a criminal conviction has essentially been deemed void, and that the record of that conviction is then destroyed or sealed.
A conviction can also be said to be vacated or dismissed, and it means much the same thing.
With an expungement, a prior conviction no longer shows up on a criminal record background check, so that person can no longer be denied access to certain benefits and services, such as housing, employment, licensing or ACS proceedings, on that basis. The only exceptions to this are for applications to own a gun or become a police officer.
Should a potential employer or landlord ask someone whether they have a criminal record, there is no obligation to disclose an expunged conviction.
An expungement, therefore, can truly be life-changing. Millions of Americans are saddled with marijuana-related convictions for offenses that are now legal, so mass expungements have the potential to drastically improve many people’s lives.
States that have enacted expungement legislation
The first states that legalized marijuana didn’t include expungement provisions for cannabis-related convictions in their legalization legislation. Now, however, 20 states have enacted legislation that explicitly permit or facilitate the expungement process for cannabis convictions.
Not all are alike though. In some states, this process is automatic while others require the individual concerned to actively petition the courts for an expungement.
Here’s a list of those 20 states that have enacted expungement legislation, alongside notes detailing the form which the expungement process takes.
- California *
- Connecticut *
- Illinois *
- New Hampshire **
- New Jersey *
- New Mexico *
- Nevada ***
- New York *
- North Dakota ****
- Vermont *
- Virginia ***
|*||Automatic expungement process.|
|**||Annulment process available for certain offenders.|
|***||Certain marijuana-related convictions may be sealed.|
|****||Certain convictions may be eligible for unconditional pardons from a state advisory board.|