Arizona Launches Much-Needed Marijuana Conviction Expungement Program

Arizona was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana, with provisions that did not allow for felony convictions related to the use or distribution of the marijuana. In order to clear the criminal records of people who were previously convicted of possession or distribution of marijuana, the Arizona legislature passed a bill allowing for the expunging of those records.

On Wednesday, Mar. 5, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill into law that will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of people who have been convicted of marijuana-related crimes. The bill, HB 2153, is a response to the passage of Proposition 205 in November. This legislation will waive the requirement that people convicted of marijuana crimes obtain certain government clearances to obtain a felony record expungement.

Arizona residents with minor marijuana convictions can have their criminal records expunged under a delisting program launched this week. Convictions of minors for marijuana will be expunged under Proposition 207, the 2020 initiative to legalize marijuana for adults, which was approved by 60 percent of voters in the state.

Julie Gunnigle, political director of the Arizona chapter of the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform, said Tuesday, the first day to apply for an exemption from the law, was a historic day for the state.

This day will go down in Arizona history as the day that there was no extinction in Arizona until 12:01 a.m. this morning, Gunnigle said, adding: Expungement is a true erasure of criminal records and convictions, and Arizona remains one of the states with the most convictions in the country.

Under this program, individuals convicted of possessing, transporting, or using 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana, including up to 12.5 grams of cannabis concentrate or cannabis extract, are entitled to have their convictions vacated. Persons convicted of possessing, cultivating, processing, or transporting up to six cannabis plants at their primary residence may also apply. Immunity from prosecution may also be granted for convictions for possession, use, or transportation of paraphernalia related to the use, cultivation, and processing of marijuana.

Individuals who qualify for relief from criminal liability must petition the court to dismiss the charges. Several organizations can also help, including the cannabis consumer advocacy group Minority for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), which offers offender clinics as part of its Project Clean Slate initiative.

We provided information, training and resources in the spring in preparation for this joyous occasion in Arizona, said Daniel Butler, program director of Project Clean Slate. This is a historic moment that will undoubtedly change the course of the lives of those who have been adversely affected by what has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Sleepless nights are worth the dawn of justice.

Arizona exemption: Maricopa County leads in exemptions

In Maricopa County, prosecutors initiated cannabis legalization as part of Proposition 207. After the November 2020 election, the Maricopa County Prosecutor’s Office began filing motions to dismiss charges in cases covered by the initiative, resulting in more than 5,000 charges already dismissed or pending. And last month, the prosecution announced it would support those who wanted to be removed from the list of suspects of the ballot measure.

I think the will of the voters should be carried out to the best of my ability, said then-Maricopa County District Attorney Allister Adel. My office has been working for several months on a system to help people who want to have their criminal records expunged in accordance with the law. My office will be open on the 12th. More than 6,900 criminal record deletion requests will be filed in July.

Jason Kalish, head of the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office, said assistance to those who qualify for the exemption comes in several forms.

Whatever you want to do, whether you fill it out yourself, contact our website or one of these organizations, the law is here to help, Mr. Kalisz said.

We don’t want people to have to pay to hire a lawyer for an application that should be free, he added.

The Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office has already received about 200 requests to be removed from the suspect list, of which about 80% can be released under the program. Mr Kalish said that erasing convictions for less serious crimes could have a positive impact on the lives of the offenders concerned, who often face difficulties in finding work, housing and public services.

This criminal record has additional consequences, it shows up in job applications, background checks, etc. We’re going to try to help these people first, Kalish said.

Although the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has taken an active role in implementing the restorative justice provisions of Proposition 207, NORML’s Gunnigle noted that this is not the case in all Arizona counties.

This is a unique opportunity to repair the damage of the war on drugs. Our prosecutors have the ability to do this universally and automatically. They decided not to, Gunnigle said. Today we celebrate, but we also keep working.

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