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Changing Marijuana Laws Contribute to Confusion and Legal Concerns Nationwide

By Michael Klazema on 2/14/2019

At the latest count, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana in some form. Though only a small number of states have chosen to fully legalize marijuana, the push for an end to what opponents call “marijuana prohibition” is gaining steam. As more states decriminalize the substance, what to do about prior convictions remains an ongoing question while other states face issues stemming from the moderation of social attitudes towards marijuana. 

In Colorado, one district attorney has taken the increasingly popular step of expanding criminal record expungements to include small-time marijuana arrests and convictions. Denver and its DA have chosen not only to allow expungements for these offenses but also to waive associated court costs. 

The class of offenses available for expungement is typically small. Once expunged and sealed, these records are functionally “invisible” to background checks such as a state-level search from backgroundchecks.com. 

In Texas, some residents are encountering fresh—and unexpected—legal troubles over the cannabis-derived CBD. Often extracted from non-psychoactive strains of the plant, there is ongoing confusion as to the legality of the substance, which has found its place among supplements marketed as possessing wide-ranging but often unverified beneficial effects. 

While a report by local NBC affiliate notes that the Texas Attorney General’s office has not made an official classification, some county-level DAs and police forces believe it is illegal and have pledged to make arrests and follow through with prosecution.

This confusion coupled with the widespread availability of CBD products has led to arrests and criminal records for individuals who believed they purchased a legal product. In one case, an individual with no criminal record was arrested after a traffic stop in which he admitted possession of CBD oil to officers, not believing it would cause any legal problems. Although the charges were ultimately dropped, the young man must now satisfy the state’s expungement criteria to return to a clean record. 

For employers, this complex patchwork of rules can make navigating the hiring process more challenging, especially as legalization leads to the re-examination of minor marijuana convictions. For job seekers, applying with a criminal record can be a frustrating task. Expungement, in many cases, is their next step.

While Denver’s “Turn Over a New Leaf” program is the latest effort to streamline access to expungement in states that have legalized marijuana, it is not the first. In many states where the legal status of cannabis has changed, law enforcement officials have begun to open the door to sealing more minor convictions. 

backgroundchecks.com, through the independent MyClearStart service, can assist individuals interested in determining their potential eligibility for the expungement of marijuana-related charges. For those seeking employment, expungement can be a very valuable tool, and one worth exploring today. 


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