Marijuana expungement accelerates in 2020

*NEW: Marijuana legalization and expungement in early 2021

Marijuana expungement reforms continued to accelerate last year, and record relief has now attained a more prominent role in the broader legalization movement. As we documented in our recent report on 2020 criminal record reforms, six states enacted specialized marijuana relief laws in 2020, following 7 states (and D.C.) that did so in 2019, and 4 states in 2018. This brings the total number of states with specialized marijuana expungement laws to 23.

In Congress, the House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act in November, which establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal marijuana offenses. However, the Senate did not bring it up for consideration so it will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress.

In 2020, Arizona and Montana approved ballot measures to authorize expungement for many marijuana offenses; Vermont made expungement automatic for marijuana possession of 2 ounces or less; Michigan and Utah streamlined marijuana record relief procedures; and Virginia restricted access to records of marijuana possession offenses. These laws are described in greater detail below.

  • Arizona passed a marijuana legalization ballot measure that requires courts, upon petition, to expunge arrests, charges, and convictions for certain marijuana possession, consumption, transportation and cultivation offenses (effective July 2, 2021) (Prop. 207). Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 36-2862.
  • Michigan streamlined petitions for marijuana misdemeanors with a presumption in favor of set-aside and sealing for offenses that have been decriminalized (HB 4982); and provided for a rehearing or appeal where set-aside of a marijuana misdemeanor is denied (HB 5120).
  • Montana passed a marijuana legalization ballot measure that provides that a person serving a sentence—or who has completed a sentence—for an act now legalized or now punishable by a lesser sentence may petition for an expungement, resentencing, and/or redesignation (I-190). I-190 sec. 36 (2020).
  • Utah made eligibility periods and the requirement of a certificate of eligibility inapplicable to convictions for possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes (SB 121) Utah Code Ann. § 77-40-103(5).
  • Vermont authorized automatic expungement of convictions involving possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana entered prior to January 1, 2021, with expungement to be completed no later than January 1, 2022 (S.234).
  • Virginia decriminalized marijuana possession, restricted public access to records relating to past arrests, charges, or convictions for this offense, prohibited employers and educational institutions from inquiring about them, and prohibited state and local officials from requiring an applicant for a license, permit, registration, or governmental service to disclose information about them (SB 2 / HB 972). Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-250.1; 19.2-389.3.

The full 2020 report is available here.