In November’s election, four more states legalized marijuana at the ballot box: Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. The measures in Arizona and Montana included provisions for expunging the record of convictions for certain marijuana arrests or convictions. During this year’s presidential campaign, President-elect Joseph R. Biden called for decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging all marijuana use convictions.
As legalization continues to advance, the expungement of criminal records has finally attained a prominent role in marijuana reform, a development we documented in March. Laws to facilitate marijuana expungement and other forms of record relief, such as sealing and set-aside, have now been enacted in 23 states and D.C.
Until very recently, most such laws extended to very minor offenses involving small amounts of marijuana and required individuals to file petitions in court to obtain relief. Now, a growing number of states have authorized marijuana record relief that covers more offenses and either does away with petition requirements or streamlines procedures.
With these developments, we have again updated our chart providing a 50-state snapshot of:
(1) laws legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana;
(2) laws that specifically provide relief for past marijuana arrests and convictions, including but not limited to conduct that has been legalized or decriminalized; and
(3) pardon programs specific to marijuana offenses.
As of this writing, 15 states and D.C. have legalized adult-use marijuana, and 16 additional states and one territory have decriminalized marijuana to some degree. Twenty-three states and D.C. have enacted expungement, sealing, or set-aside laws specifically for marijuana, or targeted more generally to decriminalized or legalized conduct (compared to 17 states and D.C. as of March 2020). Six states have developed specialized pardon programs for marijuana offenses (compared to 4 states as of March 2020)
This comment describes some of the history of marijuana decriminalization, legalization, and expungement reforms, recent trends, and the current state of the law in this area. It provides strong evidence of what Professor Douglas A. Berman has described as the “linking and leveraging” of the marijuana reform and expungement movements.