Marijuana Expungement

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell issued an executive order late last week directing Superior and District Court judges to begin reviewing and expunging the records of tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders with marijuana-related criminal convictions.

Under the plan, all eligible convictions will be removed from public review and sealed by no later than July 1, 2024. Those seeking expedited expungements can to submit a request to the Superior and District Courts’ Clerk’s Office in each county at no cost. An estimated 30,000 Rhode Islanders are estimated to be eligible to have their criminal records cleared.

“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’s 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 expungement provisions were included among broader legislation signed into law last May legalizing the adult-use possession, use, and retail sale of cannabis. Retail sales of marijuana products began in December.

Earlier this month, Missouri courts moved to erase over 3,500 marijuana-related convictions. Reform advocates in that state estimate that court officials will ultimately expunge some 100,000 convictions in the coming months. State officials in Connecticut announced that they “erased 42,964 cannabis convictions” on January 1.

To date, 24 states have enacted laws providing explicit pathways to either expunge (or otherwise set aside) the records of those with low-level marijuana convictions. According to publicly available data compiled by NORML, state and local officials have issued over 100,000 pardons and more than 1.7 million marijuana-related expungements since 2018. 

The full text of NORML’s report, Marijuana Pardons and Expungements: By the Numbers, is available online.

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