Marijuana Expungement

Governors in two states, Colorado and Illinois, recently signed legislation into law further facilitating the ability of those with past convictions for cannabis to have their records expunged.

In Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 99 into law. It further expands and streamlines the state’s automatic record sealing process for those convicted of certain marijuana-related convictions and infractions, as well as other eligible crimes.

State lawmakers in 2017 initially enacted legislation allowing persons who were “convicted of misdemeanors for marijuana-related behaviors that are no longer illegal to petition for the sealing of criminal records relating to such convictions.” Unlike similar laws in several other states, the review and expungement process is not initiated automatically in Colorado. However, in recent years, Gov. Polis has used his executive authority to pardon several thousand Coloradans convicted of low-level marijuana offenses (for the possession of two ounces or less of marijuana, as identified by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation).

In Illinois, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation (HB 4392) amending state law so that the courts can no longer deny petitioners’ requests to have their criminal records expunged solely because of a marijuana drug test failure.

Previously, petitioners seeking to have a qualifying criminal conviction expunged had to provide evidence that they had taken a drug test 30 days prior to filing their petition and that they had tested negative for the presence of cannabis or other controlled substances. The new law stipulates, “[T]he court shall not deny a petition to expunge or seal … because the petitioner has submitted a drug test taken within 30 days before the filing … that indicates a positive test for the presence of cannabis within the petitioner’s body.”

Separately, the Governor’s office has already used its clemency power to provide relief to over 500,000 residents with low-level cannabis convictions.

NORML’s State Policies Director Jax James praised the passage of the new laws. “Adults should no longer be stigmatized or disenfranchised because of convictions for marijuana-related activities that are no longer defined as crimes under the law,” she said.

In recent months, state and local officials nationwide have moved to either expunge or seal the records of over two million people with prior cannabis convictions.

A summary of state laws providing for the expungement of marijuana convictions is available from NORML here.

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