New Arizona law allows for expungement of some marijuana offenses
Thanks to the passage of Proposition 207, Arizona is one step closer to making it easier for people with certain marijuana-related offenses on their records to have them expunged. The process will be free.
Last week, the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts sent out a press release with a link to a website that helps individuals find out if they qualify for expungement, along with the necessary application forms.
“Provisions for expunging records that show the arrest, charge, adjudication, conviction or sentence of certain marijuana-related offenses take effect July 12, 2021,” it said.
In order to fill out the forms, individuals will need specific case information, such as case or arrest number, the jurisdiction the offense happened in and the arresting agency.
Although not all marijuana-related offenses are covered, the law states anyone convicted, charged or arrested (or even acquitted) of possessing, consuming or transporting 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana, with no more than 12.5 grams being concentrate, is eligible for acquittal.
It also applies to charges related to marijuana paraphernalia as well as transporting, cultivating or possessing and processing no more than six marijuana plants in an individual’s domicile.
The expungement process is a potential game changer for those who have carried these offenses on their records, said Pima County Attorney Laura Conover. She noted that up until this point, Arizona had no formal expungement process.
“What’s nice about it is it truly clears it off your record,” Conover said. “Convictions affect people a thousand different ways. It’s housing, it’s education, it’s employment. It literally touches every part of your life.”
However, Conover noted her concern for just how accessible the process of expungement would be for the average person with an offense on their record.
“There are a lot of hurdles to get past, to get to the benefit,” she said. “It’s not common practice for any of us to figure out how to take time off of work, get child care, look for some court forms, figure out if they need an attorney, figure out where to take the forms and to try to figure out how to ask a judge all by themselves to expunge their record.”
To that end, Conover said she and her office have identified nearly 2,200 people already that they believe qualify for expungement. She said her office is reaching out to those individuals now.
She also said her office is setting up a website to complement the state-run site and help expedite the process of expungement.
According to Pima County Attorney Office’s Communication Director Joe Watson, that website should be up and operable by next week.
“Monday, we'll be launching a webpage,” Watson said. “Dedicated exclusively to Prop. 207 expungements where folks can look through the statutes, see if they qualified for Prop. 207 expungements and then fill out a form.”
The office’s Conviction and Integrity Sentencing Unit will then make sure they are eligible for expungement and will submit the needed paperwork for free on the individual’s behalf, Watson said.
“Folks are certainly permitted to go to an attorney to help facilitate that, but we’re also here for free,” he said.
Mike Robinette, interim director for Arizona NORML, a marijuana advocacy organization, said he and his organization shared Conover’s concerns about access.
“The process itself is spelled out,” he said. “I think where there'll be difficulties is if someone has no documentation of a previous arrest going back to try to find that arrest, to see if it qualifies.”
The state Supreme Court has a website for anyone who may be looking to find a lost case information number.
Robinette said NORML is doing “expungement clinics” around the state in anticipation of the July 12 deadline. The goal, like PCAO, is to take the burden off of people not trained in dealing with the court process.
“What will happen is anyone who has conviction can come in and speak with a volunteer lawyer who will then advise them on if this is actually expungeable,” he said.
The human element of the clinics, something that can get lost in the torrent of paperwork and legalese, is what Robinette takes away from the events.
“I sat in on the first one we did up in Phoenix,” he said. “And it was very powerful to see people and be able to tell someone, ‘Absolutely that can be expunged that will no longer follow you in your life.’”
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