“Today’s decision is a great embodiment of the will of the Arizona voters who elected to undo the harms caused by the overpolicing of marijuana laws.”
By Caitlin Sievers, Arizona Mirror
Some convictions for marijuana sales are eligible for expungement under Proposition 207, which legalized the drug for adult use, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
“This will allow [people who have been convicted] to mitigate the generational impact of their involvement with the criminal legal system, which affects Black and Brown people and people of lower socioeconomic status at disproportionate rates,” Martin Hutchins, lead attorney and program manager for the Reclaim Your Future campaign, said in a statement.
In his opinion for the unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Brian Furuya reversed a previous ruling from a Maricopa County Superior Court judge that denied expungement of a man’s 2014 marijuana sales conviction. The appellate court ordered the trial court to grant his expungement petition.
When Arizonans in November 2020 approved Prop. 207, legalizing adult use of marijuana, they also voted to authorize expungement for adults who were previously convicted of using or possessing amounts of the drug that are now legal.
That meant that, as of July 12, 2021, anyone who had been arrested, charged or convicted in Arizona of marijuana possession or use could petition the court to expunge records of any of those charges, convictions or sentences. Those eligible for expungement per the new law include those convicted for possessing, consuming or transporting 2.5 ounces of marijuana or less; possessing, transporting and cultivating six or fewer marijuana plants for personal use; and possessing, using or transporting marijuana related paraphernalia.
Just three days after it became an option, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office petitioned for the man’s conviction to be expunged, on his behalf
But the trial judge, Margaret LaBianca, denied the man’s petition asking for expungement, ruling that the law prohibits expungement for sales-related marijuana offenses. The appeals court on Tuesday overturned that ruling, even after the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council submitted a brief asserting that the expungement statute “unambiguously excludes possessing-marijuana-for-sale offenses.”
The appellate judges concluded that, because transportation of marijuana is now eligible for expungement, and because transportation of marijuana for personal use has not been a crime in Arizona since 1987, voters must have meant to include transportation of marijuana for sales to be eligible for expungement.
“Today’s decision is a great embodiment of the will of the Arizona voters who elected to undo the harms caused by the overpolicing of marijuana laws,” Hutchins said in the statement. “There are many people who were charged with for-sale offenses before the passage of Prop. 207 even when they had minimal amounts of marijuana because other factors led officers to assume the person was some sort of dealer. The state and the cannabis industry is now making millions on marijuana sales, so it’s fortunate that people who were believed to have committed a sales-related offense can now benefit from expungement.”
Reclaim Your Future is a state-funded expungement effort that provides free legal help to those looking for help obtaining it in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff.
According to court records, Sorensen was arrested in 2014 for possession of around two-thirds of an ounce of marijuana and was charged with possession of marijuana for sale, along with possession of drug paraphernalia, both felonies.
As part of a plea agreement, the man pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit possession of marijuana for sale, also a felony, which was later lowered to a misdemeanor after he completed his probation.