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States Have Expunged Over 2.3 Million Marijuana Records Since 2018, NORML Report Shows



States have expunged or sealed more than 2.3 million marijuana records since 2018, with courts increasingly processing relief as more legalization laws are enacted, a newly updated analysis from NORML finds.

Looking at publicly available data, the advocacy organization’s estimate indicates that about half a million more cannabis cases were expunged in the past year alone.

That’s largely thanks to legislation that’s been implemented as part of state legalization efforts. NORML’s report says California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Virginia have been especially active in facilitating expungements.

In those states, courts must proactively identify and clear records for certain low-level marijuana convictions. Other states such as Arizona and Massachusetts require people to individually petition courts for relief.

In Missouri alone, the state expunged more than 100,000 cannabis cases in 2023, even as some courts missed deadlines.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans unduly carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that most Americans, and a growing number of states, no longer consider to be a crime,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that public officials and the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”

The report comes weeks after President Joe Biden granted an expanded pardon for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses and renewed his call for governors to follow suit with state-level relief.

Pardons represent formal forgiveness for the violations, but they do not remove the conviction from a person’s record.

Advocates have also critically pointed out that the president’s cannabis-focused pardons have not released anyone from prison and exclude large groups of people, including immigrants and those with convictions for selling marijuana.

The majority of cannabis arrests take place at the state level, however, so mass relief has been largely contingent on actions by individual legislatures and governors. A previous NORML report published about a year ago found that governors have granted about 100,000 marijuana pardons since 2018.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 900 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D), for example, has granted thousands of state-level cannabis pardons over his tenure as governor.

In November, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) issued another round of pardons, including dozens issued for people with prior marijuana convictions. He’s granted relief to over 1,000 people during his time in office.

Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety, meanwhile, posted an update on the state’s mandated expungement of thousands of marijuana-related criminal records last week, saying employees are “hard at work” to implement the automatic relief that’s required under the legalization law signed by the governor last May.

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