Expansion of Marijuana Legalization Gives Expungement Procedures New Importanc

By Michael Klazema on 8/9/2018

Laws that allow for the legal sale of recreational marijuana are now on the books in nine states (and Washington, D.C.), with Michigan poised to vote on its own recreational ballot measure this November. Several other states are currently considering ballot measures to legalize medical marijuana. According to a report from local station WKBN-27, a legislator in Pennsylvania has also put forward a bill to create a taxed market for recreational marijuana. 

Although there has been little action at the federal level regarding de-scheduling cannabis, the tide has turned toward legalization as almost every state engages in discussion on the issue.

As the illegality of cannabis use is wiped away, something else remains: the legacy of marijuana's place in the War on Drugs in the form of arrests and convictions for petty possession and sale. Some individuals may have a record based solely on a paraphernalia charge. Given the barriers to employment that a criminal record creates, state governments have increasingly begun to realize legalization is not enough: they must act regarding expungement, too.

Rhode Island recently passed a law aimed at easing rehabilitative efforts for those with marijuana charges in their past. By petitioning the court, an affected individual can have the charges sealed and removed from their record. Such records typically do not show up on criminal history reports, such as the county-level check or state level reports offered by In this way, applicants can present a clean slate to potential employers free from the stigma associated with a now-legal activity.

Several states with legal cannabis, including Massachusetts and Oregon, use a similar method for expungements. Some question requiring individuals to be proactive about petitioning for expungement. Given shifting attitudes towards the substance and growing legalization, automatic expungement has been floated as a reliable alternative. 


San Francisco and San Diego counties in California have rolled out automatic record sealing. Misdemeanor and even some felony marijuana convictions will be expunged, wiping away the legacy of past enforcement actions without additional steps required from those convicted.


For now, this approach remains the exception rather than the rule. Until more states make a move to embrace automatic expungement of marijuana-related offenses in the wake of legalization, the burden to clear the record remains on the individual. 


Depending on the locale, other types of non-violent offenses may be eligible for expungement, which can open new doors to employment opportunities. offers a gateway to assistance with expungement efforts through our partnership with MyClearStart. Learn more about your eligibility status, the procedures your state has in place to facilitate expungement, and the next steps you should take to secure a second chance. 

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