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Learn | 03.07.2023

Expungement & Cannabis: Removing Criminal Records For A Second Chance

The urgent call for expungement of cannabis-related criminal records

Expungement is the removal of an arrest or conviction from the criminal record database as if it never occurred. This is a form of record relief that helps eliminate some of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. 

These collateral consequences can eventually bury a person, preventing him or her from successfully reintegrating into society.

Expungement is gaining interest in the United States because of its problem with mass incarceration, which has landed nearly 2.2 million people in prison, more than any other country in the world. 

What Is Expungement?

The definition of expungement varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Generally, expungement means that an arrest or conviction is removed (expunged) from the major criminal history databases as if it never existed. 

An expungement is a form of “record relief.” It is a way of removing some of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, i.e., the record of the crime is completely expunged, as if you never committed it.

Expungement is crucial because, in the US, punishment does not end with time served or a fine paid but continues for life due to “collateral consequences” that can remain with an individual forever.

Why Does It Matter?

Marijuana arrests play an important role in mass incarceration and the need for expungement. 

Each year, about 660,000 people are arrested for marijuana in the United States, making it the number one type of drug arrest made by law enforcement. 

Marijuana arrest records also contribute to systemic racism in the United States, as people of color are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and sentenced more harshly than white individuals.

What Are The Collateral Consequences?

A criminal record can significantly affect a person’s ability to earn a legal income and support themselves and their family.

A criminal record can show up on a background check, which can ruin job prospects long after the conviction has been served. Other collateral consequences include loss of the right to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office, rent an apartment, receive public benefits, own a firearm, drive a car, receive financial aid and admission to college, military service, and remain in the U.S. (i.e., deportation for non-citizens), among others.

Expungement Vs. Record Sealing

Expungement is different from record sealing, which involves sealing records from public view so that only police, judges, and prosecutors can see what is in the record. 

With an expungement, the record can be physically destroyed. Expungement is primarily for misdemeanors, while felonies generally cannot be expunged.

Can I Apply For Expungement?

Misdemeanors are usually eligible for expungement, while felonies are generally not. It is important to remember that eligibility varies by state, offence, and other details. 

Marijuana-related misdemeanors are a growing category of expungements, recently available under legalization and automatic laws in some states, including Vermont and New York.

How Can I Expunge My Record For Free?

The first place to go for expungement applicants is to their local legal aid organizations. Local legal advocacy groups know the contours of the local jurisdiction better than anyone else and file expungements on a regular basis.

Some states, such as Vermont and several California cities, have also used automatic expungement of misdemeanor records related to weed. 

You can also search for expungement attorneys in your area, checking for reviews and referrals and considering that they can be a bit expensive.

Final Opinion

In conclusion, expungement is critical to eliminating the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction and helping minor offenders reintegrate into society. 

With mass incarceration and systemic racism affecting the United States, the need for expungement has never been greater. It is essential to ensure that individuals, such as those charged with marijuana possession, are not punished for the rest of their lives and have a fair chance to rebuild their lives, especially when they have had a lifetime record tarnished by activities that are now legal, for example.

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