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One of the selling points for legalizing cannabis is that it will lead to expunging the arrest records of those charged with marijuana possession in previous years. The idea is that it is unfair for people to have a blemish on their record for doing something no longer considered a crime.
Proponents consider expunging criminal convictions a social justice issue because it most benefits minority communities who have much higher cannabis-related arrest rates. Past cannabis charges can result in restricted access to opportunities for employment, housing and education.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone so well in some places. In Massachusetts, for example, it’s been called a failure – and the state is far from the only one experiencing problems.
Arizona, where legal adult-use sales just started in 2021, is attempting to move faster on expunging weed-related criminal history. The state’s biggest county – Maricopa County – recently applied to have 10,000 cases wiped off the books.
In a press release on the issue, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said, ““I believe that the will of the voters should be implemented as efficiently as possible.”
Three main areas
As part of the Proposition 207 ballet issue approved by voters – commonly known as the Arizona Safe and Smart Act – those convicted of specific crimes in the state became eligible to have those records cleared. The proposition received 60 percent of the vote statewide.
People can file petitions in three areas.
- Possessing, consuming or transporting 2 1/2 ounces or less of marijuana (including cannabis), of which not more than 12 1/2 grams is in the form of marijuana concentrate.
- Possessing, transporting, cultivating, or processing not more than six marijuana plants at the filer’s primary residence for personal use.
- Possessing, using, or transporting paraphernalia related to the cultivation, manufacture,
processing, or consumption of marijuana.
People charged with a marijuana offense who completed a diversion program but still had an arrest and dismissal on their criminal record may also file for expungement. When a petition is granted, the record is sealed and no longer available to the public.
Maricopa moves quickly on expungement
Arizona already has developed a reputation for moving fast on cannabis-related issues. The state began recreational sales within months after voters approved them, for example, rather than the years it has taken in other states.
Maricopa County is bringing that spirit of efficiency to clearing past cannabis convictions. The county began filing petitions for expungement with the court system on July 12, the first day they became eligible to do so. They have focused primarily on the most recent cases, with 7,000 petitions involving cases handled by the office since 2016.
The court already has granted more than 3,600 expungements.
People also can apply online themselves to the Maricopa County Superior Court to have their marijuana-related conviction expunged. However, as with other places, only a small percentage of those eligible to apply have done so.