It's been less than two months since Missouri officially legalized weed, but state courts have expunged over 3,500 cannabis-related criminal records.
Missouri's adult-use law, enacted last December 8th, requires state and county courts to identify and expunge low-level cannabis crimes automatically. Courts have until June 8th to clear pot-related misdemeanors from the record books and must clear specific cannabis felonies before December 8th, 2023. The state plans to fund these efforts using weed tax revenue, but this income won't start until adult-use sales officially begin.
But even without this additional funding, some jurisdictions have already started wiping records clean. As of January 19th, officials in 25 Missouri counties have already issued 3,518 expungements. And in fact, 1,178 of those expungements were granted within the past week. The local NORML chapter estimates that over three times as many cases could be expunged by the end of this year, and has promised to sue any counties that fail to meet the deadlines.
"This is very positively impacting thousands of lives,” said Missouri NORML Coordinator Dan Viets in an email. “Ultimately, we expect more than 100,000 expungements will be automatically granted in Missouri marijuana cases.”
President Biden recently issued a mass pardon to over 6,500 minor cannabis offenders, and several state governors followed up with their own limited pardon programs. Expungements are actually far more effective than pardons, though. A pardon will officially forgive crimes and restore voting, employment, and education rights, but it does not remove convictions from criminal records. An expungement will wipe these cases off the records, effectively preventing employers or landlords from viewing them.
“These days it’s so easy to access someone’s criminal history online so removing this from the public access is especially important for people looking for jobs, trying to get a loan to buy a car or a house,” Viets told FOX4.
Mostly, these expungements will help people who have already served time for cannabis crimes get a fresh start in life. But in some cases, this act of clemency frees people from prison. Last week, Adam Mace was released from jail after serving 14 years. Courts sentenced Mace to 11 years for a fatal DUI accident and five additional years for minor pot possession. The expungement allows Mace to escape the final two years of his cannabis sentence since he had already done time for the DUI.
Many OG West Coast states that legalized weed a decade ago did not specifically include expungements in their original adult-use legislation. And for those that did, eligible offenders had to personally submit applications for expungements, a time-consuming process that often required expensive legal assistance. Most states that legalized weed more recently have included provisions for automatically expunging convictions. Connecticut cleared around 44,000 convictions this year, and New Jersey cleared over 362,000 cases within three months of legalization.