One of the hottest topics surrounding the marijuana discussion as of late has been eliminating the criminal records of those people convicted of marijuana crimes throughout the years. Illinois got the trend going in 2019 when it made expungement part of its plan to end pot prohibition statewide.
Now, other states and local jurisdictions are looking into it too. The overall goal is to give opportunity back to the people who have endured hardships as a result of a marijuana conviction. And, the cannabis community is excited about the possibilities. The only problem is, not everyone who has been convicted of a marijuana offense is going to be let off the hook.
In the eyes of some, it might seem a bit unfair to wipe away the criminal record of those who have broken the law. After all, we’re not making it a point to forgive most crimes. But what they might not understand is the level of unfairness associated with this offense and the damage it has done. There have been hundreds of thousands of people incarcerated in state and federal penitentiaries for weed over the decades. To make matters worse, most of them were non-violent offenders.
And while prison isn’t necessarily the outcome for most of those who get busted for marijuana crimes in this day and age, hundreds of thousands are still being jammed up in the criminal justice system every year. FBI data shows those number still rank in at well over 600,000 annually.
A lot of these folks end up with a record in their youthful years, which causes them trouble when they go to apply for college, housing, employment and other highly sought after aspects of the American dream. Marijuana offenders are often considered pariahs in the midst of civil society, which is the reason many lawmakers are leading the charge to clean the slate. They want to make good on old drug war policies that should have never been enforced in the first place. This means scrubbing pot offenses from the equation, and allowing these people to get on with their lives.
Los Angeles and San Francisco have already expunged hundreds of thousands of marijuana convictions since California went legal a few years back. Illinois also moved on a slew of marijuana convictions last year. Even former president Donald Trump, a man who did not support legalization, was known to pardon offenders caught up in offenses associated with federal marijuana laws.
One of the people he pardoned before he left office was Crystal Munoz who spent 12-years in prison for her role in a pot distribution ring. Trump pardoned her because she “has mentored people working to better their lives, volunteered with a hospice program, and demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to rehabilitation,” according to the White House.
So what does a marijuana expungement do? Well, once a person’s record is sealed, it is perfectly acceptable for them to say, “I don’t have a criminal record.” They are no longer required by law to list their pot offense on applications for employment, housing, or anything else for that matter.
It’s like the crime never actually happened.
More jurisdictions are seeing this minor reform as an act of good faith. In fact, even though marijuana is still mostly illegal in Missouri, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced last year his decision to eliminate marijuana convictions. “I want to be able to do for these folks is to say, ‘You might have made a mistake at some point,’ but that we’re going to be fair in how we apply, frankly, the law in Kansas City and in Missouri,” he said in an interview with the Kansas City Star.
At the state level, Maryland is considering a bill mandating that “all court records and police records relating to any … charge of possession of marijuana, … where marijuana is the only charge, the case shall be automatically expunged on or before October 1, 2022.” The bill was separate from another measure seeking to decriminalize minor pot possession statewide.
Although all of the expungement policies are different depending on the state or county, the one thing they all have in common is that only the pettiest of marijuana offenses are getting a free pass. The expungement process is only for those offenders who have been convicted of low-level pot crimes. That could mean the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Pounds, not so much.
But the offenders who don’t stand a chance of having their records cleared are those whose offenses were also wrapped up in violence or gun charges. Most expungements, regardless of where they take place in the United States, are done on a case by case basis. Yet, so far, no officials have agreed to budge on marijuana offenses attached to more serious crimes. And that is not likely to change anytime soon.