Marijuana Expungement Laws

Since 2018, state courts have either expunged or sealed the records of more than two million marijuana-related cases, according to an updated analysis by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

According to publicly available data, state and local courts have taken action on an estimated 2.3 million marijuana-related cases. States that have been most active in providing relief to those with past convictions include California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws in recent years providing explicit pathways to either expunge, seal, annul, or otherwise set aside the records of those with low-level marijuana convictions. In some jurisdictions — such as California, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, and New Jersey — courts automatically review past records and notify those who meet the state’s criteria for expungement. In other jurisdictions — such as Arizona and Massachusetts — laws require those seeking legal relief to petition the courts to have their records reviewed and vacated.

NORML estimates that state and local police have made more than 29 million marijuana-related arrests since 1965. Of those arrested, some 90 percent were charged with low-level cannabis possession offenses.

“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.”

In December, President Joe Biden issued an expanded pardon proclamation for those seeking forgiveness for certain federal marijuana-related convictions. (The President had previously issued a more limited proclamation in 2022 and the Justice Department has opened an online portal for eligible applicants.) In his proclamations, he also encouraged Governors to issue similar pardons to those with state-level cannabis convictions. Public records indicate that elected officials have issued an estimated 100,000 marijuana-related pardons in recent years. However, unlike expungements, pardons do not remove a conviction from one’s record.

Nationwide polling compiled by YouGov reports that nearly six in ten Americans support expunging marijuana-related convictions for non-violent offenses.

The full text of the updated report, Marijuana Pardons and Expungements: By the Numbers, is available from NORML.

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