What is Cannabis Expungement?
Expungement (or expunction) means “to erase or remove.” An expungement proceeding is a lawsuit determining if criminal convictions can be sealed. State laws vary regarding the specifics of expunging records. This applies to all crime records. Cannabis expungement is specific to marijuana related crimes.
As with any court records, a marijuana conviction record can be “erased,” but depends on state laws. However, that doesn’t mean the criminal record is thrown out. Courts can expunge crime records but can remain available to law enforcement. Cannabis decriminalization advocacy is a much-needed movement within the current world order. However, as each state goes “green,” a disproportionate percentage of non-whites are tainted with criminal charges, felonies, and even arrests concerning this plant.
Serving this specific community is a large part of the work of National Expungement groups. Last month, American advocacy groups celebrated National Expungement Week, which spreads awareness and information about expungement and record sealing options via webinars and expungement clinics.
State Laws Determine Expungement
In November, cannabis was on the ballot in several states like New Jersey, Arizona, and Montana. Votes to legalize recreational cannabis won. And Mississippi votes led to legalizing medical cannabis. South Dakota voted to legalize both recreational and medical cannabis.
While this is welcome progress, the United States has a long and troubled history of cannabis criminalization. Communities of color like impoverished Black neighborhoods, still suffer disproportionally to whites thanks to the war on drugs. Without expunging records of crime, police can access your past and use it against you. These are lasting effects. In the U.S., cannabis and incarceration and other drug convictions helped make our country the world leader of prison populations.
Seventeen states have currently enacted marijuana-related record expungement. California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York have processes for petition-based relief regarding cannabis offenses. Colorado, DC, Connecticut, and Delaware, amongst others, have provisions for record relief.
Melanie Rose Rodgers, founder of Influential X and co-leader of Expunge Colorado, sat down with Honeysuckle Magazine to discuss the importance of cannabis education, decriminalization, and advocacy. She is the president of Safe Access Colorado.
Melanie Talks About the Cannabis Industry
“Before working in the cannabis industry, I was in advertising and marketing. In 2006, I worked pro bono for nonprofits. I learned strong leadership skills. And I flew across the country, training sales teams for a healthcare insurance company. Despite the decent income, I was miserable.
Since my first job in 2014, for a branding marketing agency called Cannabrand.
In everything I do, I ask myself: Am I educating? Am I giving back? Is this for a good cause? So, I started Influential X. My mission is to positively influence the community by creating meaningful experiences and events rooted in education, advocacy, and social responsibility.
I love the notion of foregoing Western medicine in order to take our health and wellness into our own hands. Cannabis can be preventative. It helps relieve stress, which can fester into a chronic disease. I felt miserable in the corporate sector, this plant drove me to advocacy and helped me learn new skills. In 2018 I volunteered for my first National Expungement Week event.”
Expunging Cannabis Arrest Records
“Even in a legalized market, the cannabis industry led to arrests of POC in higher numbers.
Expungement means removing a charge. However, Colorado does not seal records. So, despite a dismissal, the arrest remains on your record and police maintain access to your rap sheet—whether or not charges were dropped (source: Brennan Center for Justice).
The American dream is a myth unless you’re wealthy and white. If you are Black or Latino, and have a record, your options for employment are limited. An expungement is supposed to be restorative justice. There is an economic benefit to giving people back their dignity, allowing them to start over with a clean slate and have the same opportunity as everyone else.
We are working on this through Expunge Colorado. Rosalie Flores is in Operations. I’m in Marketing and Fundraising. Abbey Hruby with A. Moffit Law is our criminal justice lawyer. The three of us, along with a small team of volunteers and volunteer attorneys have helped the 138 people that have come through our virtual record sealing clinic.”
Advocating for Cannabis Expungement
“It’s important to put faces to the stories to humanize these individuals.
One man pat our expungement clinic had forged a fake check when he was 18 years old. He cashed the check. Because it was $500, it was a felony. He didn’t know that. He was with the wrong group of friends. He got caught. Now he’s about to turn 40 and this mistake is still haunting him.
Through Expunge Colorado, we want to empower people and help them to understand this convoluted process of sealing. We set up a last-minute pop-up at a dispensary to tell people about National Expungement Week and this one white kid said, “I don’t need that.” We need to educate people like him to show that this could happen to anyone, especially now.
The reason we’re getting such great responses with this work is that Black Lives Matter really shed a big light on the injustice that’s happening. I’ve known it for a long time, but now it’s like everyone’s waking up.
How You Can Help
Find out how to contact local criminal justice reform organizations. Familiarize yourself with the state’s laws about record-sealing. Visit the National Expungement Week website. There, you’ll find several resources and a toolkit about the national expungement leadership team. The group has done a great job of providing a community toolkit of how to host a clinic in your city. You can help by donating and funding this essential work.
As a society, we need to vote for district attorneys that represent the police. We need to be vocal with our votes. The movement of defunding the police and criminal justice reform has never been as important as it is now. Record-sealing is a way of providing reparations to the people that have been harmed the most by our criminal justice system.