Missouri officials have expunged more than 100,000 marijuana cases from court records during the first year of legalization, according the latest state numbers. But some courts missed Friday’s deadline for felony expungements as clerks work to review decades of old cases.
“The courts are going to need more time to finish the job, and in fact, it might be years before all the cases from the past century are expunged,” lawyer Dan Viets, a Missouri NORML coordinator and co-author of Missouri’s 2022 constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana, told FOX affiliate KVTI in St. Louis. “We’ve had more than 100 years of marijuana prohibition in Missouri. Many of the older cases have never been put on a database. So, it’s going to take a lot of physical work to locate those paper records in boxes and attics and go through them.”
Viets said in a Missouri NORML press release that the automatic expungement provision is “one of the most significant parts” of the state marijuana law approved by voters last year on a 53–47 margin.
“In addition to stopping approximately 20,000 marijuana arrests each year,” he said, “the law now requires state government to undo much of the damage which was inflicted on hundreds of thousands of Missourians during the past 100 years.”
The long history of prohibition in the state means it will take more time and energy to completely clear Missouri’s records of cannabis offenses eligible to be expunged.
“This is because older case records are not computerized. They have never been placed on any database. It is going to require physical work to locate those cases and records and have them expunged,” Missouri NORML said.
The group noted that the ballot measure, now codified as Article XIV in the state Constitution, provided money for the expungement through the state’s 6 percent sales tax on adult-use marijuana.
The tax “has provided far more revenue to the state than should be required in order to fund hiring additional staff or paying overtime to existing staff members in the Circuit Clerks’ offices across the state,” the organization said.
Last month sales total marijuana sales in the Missouri passed the $1 billion mark for 2023, which includes both adult-use and medical marijuana.
Of tax revenue received by the state, lawmakers recently announced that $17 million will be used to fund veterans health, drug treatment and legal aid.
Under the law, the state had until June 8 to automatically expunge misdemeanors and until December 8 to clear felonies.
“As of Monday of this week, it was more than 99,000 cases,” Viets told local TV station KOMU over the weekend. “And on average, for the past year, more than 2,000 cases have been expunged each week.”
Counties that missed Friday’s deadline, Viets added, are in violation of the state’s Constitution, telling the station that legal action could be taken through a writ of mandamus.
At the state’s June deadline for misdemeanor violations, he said, at least half a dozen of Missouri’s 114 counties hadn’t expunged a single case.
“Some of the smaller, rural counties, where support for Amendment 3 is less, that’s where fewer cases have been expunged,” Viets said. “There seems to be a correlation.”
More broadly, Missouri’s marijuana system has experienced considerable turbulence this year, with tens of thousands of products recalled over the allegedly illegal use of hemp-derived cannabinoids from outside the state. Last month, officials moved to revoke the business license of Delta Extraction, the company at the center of the controversy.
The incident put state marijuana regulators on their heels regarding practices at product testing labs, which had already come under fire earlier in the year over alleged practices of “lab shopping” as producers sought higher THC potency numbers.
Another company, Retailer Point Management, which does business as Shangri-La in Columbia, recently settled a dispute with a union over 15 charges of unfair labor practices. It’s part of a broader push by workers at cannabis businesses to organize the industry.
Meanwhile, lawmakers last month said the state’s marijuana regulators overstepped their authority when setting new rules on product branding and packaging meant to limit appeal to children.
Businesses also recently filed a lawsuit challenging the “stacked” local and county taxes that companies say is unconstitutional.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, two Missouri Republicans pre-filed a pair of bills to legalize the medical use of psilocybin and require clinical trials exploring the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.