Arizona Launches Much-Needed Marijuana Conviction Expungement Program
Arizona residents with low-level marijuana convictions can have their records wiped clean under a state expungement program launched this week. The expungements for minor cannabis convictions are being issued in accordance with Proposition 207, the 2020 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for adults that was passed by 60 percent of the state’s voters.
Julie Gunnigle, the political director for the Arizona chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that Tuesday, the first day to apply for an expungement, is a historic day for the state.
“Today is a day that will go down in Arizona history because Arizona does not have expungements or didn’t, until this morning at 12:01 a.m.,” said Gunnigle, adding “An expungement is a true clearing of someone’s criminal history and record, and Arizona continues to be one of the most incarcerated states in the nation.”
Under the program, those with convictions for possessing, transporting or consuming 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana, of which no more than 12.5 grams can be a cannabis concentrate or extract, are eligible to have their records expunged. Those with convictions for possessing, cultivating, processing or transporting up to six cannabis plants at their primary residence can also apply. Expungements can also be issued for convictions for possessing, using or transporting paraphernalia related to the consumption, cultivation and processing of marijuana.
Those eligible for expungement are required to petition the courts to have their records cleared. Help is also available from several organizations including the cannabis advocacy group Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), which has been offering expungement clinics through its Project Clean Slate initiative.
“We provided information, education and resources in the spring anticipating the joy of this day for Arizona,” said Project Clean Slate program director Danielle Butler. “This is a historic moment that will undoubtedly change the trajectory of lives negatively impacted by what is now a billion-dollar industry. The sleepless nights are well worth the dawn of justice.”
Arizona Expungement: Maricopa County Takes The Lead On Expungement
In Maricopa County, prosecutors have taken the lead on enacting the legalization of cannabis as mandated by the people through Proposition 207. Following the election in November 2020, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office began filing motions to dismiss charges in pending cases covered by the initiative, leading to more than 5,000 charges already being dropped or pending dismissal. And last month, county prosecutors announced that they would assist those seeking expungement under the successful ballot measure.
“I believe that the will of the voters should be implemented as efficiently as possible,” Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said at the time. “My office has been working for months to identify a system to assist individuals seeking to have their criminal record expunged per statute. On July 12, it is expected that my office will proactively file over 6,900 stipulated motions to expunge convictions.”
Jason Kalish, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office division chief, said that help for those eligible for expungement is available in many forms.
“Whatever you feel comfortable with, whether it’s filling it out yourself, coming to our website, or one of these organizations, the law is designed to help you,” said Kalish.
“We don’t want people to have to pay money, you know, to hire a lawyer to file something that should be free,” he added.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has already received about 200 requests for expungement, with about 80 percent eligible for relief under the program. Kalish noted that expunging convictions for low-level crimes can have a positive impact on the lives of affected offenders, who often face challenges gaining employment, housing and public services.
“There’s a collateral consequence for that conviction, [it] shows up on a job application a background check what have you. We are going to try to help those people first and foremost,” Kalish said.
While the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has taken a proactive role in implementing the restorative justice provisions of Proposition 207, Gunnigle of NORML noted that the same is not the case in all of Arizona’s counties.
“This is a starting opportunity to undo the damage done by the war on drugs. Our prosecutors have the ability to make this universal and automatic. They’re choosing not to,” Gunnigle said. “Today we celebrate, but we also continue to work.”
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