Criminal policy reform accelerates in 2021

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The process of expunging cannabis criminal records continues in various legal states in 2021. On Friday, Los Angeles County DA George Gasçon moved to expunge an additional 60,000 convictions that happened pre-legalization in California, reports KTLA, bringing the total to 125,000. And in Illinois, 38,000 records are eligible for expungement, according to WTTW. The state has hired 20 organizations to assist with the process.

“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” Gascón said. “It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services that previously were denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”

‘Groundbreaking’ legislation

While uptake is low in some areas — in Illinois, only 1,100 records have been cleared so far since legalization two years ago — there has been a steady increase in expungement clauses within state legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis. The Collateral Consequences Research Center, which tracks criminal policy reform, calls it “groundbreaking,” noting that four states enacted pardon laws in 2018, seven in 2019 and six in 2020. 

“Between February and April, four states enacted legislation legalizing recreational marijuana,” they write. “In conjunction with legalization, these states (New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia) also enacted innovative criminal policy reforms — including the automatic expungement of an exceptionally broad array of past marijuana convictions — along with a variety of social equity provisions.”

State-to-state patchwork

As of March in Canada, less than 400 people nationwide had gone through the country’s process to pardon — not expunge, automatically or otherwise — eligible records, says CTV.

And in the US, reform varies from state-to-state. In Virginia, for example, eligible records are restricted from public access, like potential employers or schools; in Vermont, any convictions of possession of two grams or less were automatically expunged.

This will be part of the conversation at today’s Business of Cannabis: New York event. Follow along for updates via Twitter and Instagram.

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