Missouri courts have expunged more than 7,500 cannabis convictions in the four months since the state voted to legalize weed.
As of last week, state and county courts have expunged 6,121 misdemeanor charges for nonviolent cannabis crimes. And on top of that, the state has cleared over 1,200 felony pot charges from the record books. These expungements even apply to people who are currently serving time for pot crimes, and at least one person has already been freed from jail under the new program.
The expungement plan is a key component of Missouri's new adult-use law, which voters approved during last year's midterm election. In addition to allowing adults to legally grow, possess, and smoke weed, this new law sets up a regulated recreational retail cannabis market. But while most other adult-use states delayed their retail sales rollout for years, Missouri kicked off its first legal sales less than three months after voters said yes to weed.
Missouri's expungement plans are also proceeding way ahead of schedule. The adult-use law requires courts to expunge the cases of anyone who is currently serving time for minor pot crimes by March 8th, but courts have until June 8th to clear former misdemeanors, and until December 8th to wipe felony charges. But although most of these deadlines are months away, several counties began clearing records on their own accord. By the end of January, officials had already cleared over 3,500 records. This month, that number has more than doubled.
“It’s going faster than I expected,” said Missouri NORML Coordinator Dan Viets, who also co-authored the state's legalization ballot measure, to the Riverfront Times. “I thought clerks might wait until they got some money to hire additional people or pay overtime to their existing staff. But at least 40-some counties are not waiting on that — they’re plunging right ahead and reviewing cases and expunging them.”
Despite the speedy progress, the state still has a long road ahead. Missouri is only offering expungements to people who have been convicted of nonviolent cannabis crimes, and anyone who was busted for selling pot to minors or driving while stoned is ineligible. But even with these restrictions in place, Viets believes that as many as 100,000 Missourians are still eligible for expungements. So the state isn't even one tenth of the way there yet.
And while some counties are advancing expungements ahead of schedule, others seem to be ignoring the deadlines. Only 60 of the state's 114 counties have cleared weed records so far, and some of these localities have only cleared a couple of cases each. Many officials have also denied petitions from people who are currently serving time for cannabis crimes, forcing them to remain locked behind bars.
“It’s kind of all over the place across the state,” said Christina Frommer, cofounder of the nonprofit Canna Convict Project, to the Riverfront Times. “Some judges are really open and willing to expunge the records and others are still fighting it.”
Most other adult-use states have also seen mixed degrees of success with their own expungement programs. Illinois has pardoned or expunged more than half a million cannabis cases since 2020, and New Jersey cleared over 362,000 cases within three months of legalizing. Connecticut also expunged over 44,000 convictions when its new adult-use law came into effect this year. California and other West Coast states that spearheaded the wave of weed legalization in the 2010s have been slow to implement their expungement programs, though.
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