As even more states choose to fully legalize marijuana, the legacy of its illicit status continues to be a source of strife for offenders. With many states previously criminalizing cannabis to such an extent that small amounts carried harsh penalties, tens of thousands of people now live with a marijuana-associated criminal record. A conviction for a non-violent crime such as possession may not always carry a severe penalty, but its effects can linger: offenders often face difficulty securing housing, completing job interviews, and accessing credit.
At the close of 2019, two more states took steps to offer these individuals easier access to expungement, a process which removes prior convictions and arrests from someone's public record. Legislators in Illinois and New Jersey passed laws expanding opportunities to wipe the slate clean.
Lawmakers pointed to the long-term effects of convictions along with the disproportionate way that the drug war has affected minority communities as key reasons for taking action. Though New Jersey has yet to decriminalize marijuana, Illinois' action coincided with state legalization.
In many "legal states," activists and lawmakers alike believe that it makes little sense to continue to punish people for actions that are no longer considered criminal. The social problems caused by marijuana prohibition have been recognized even in New Jersey, which remains at a legislative impasse over legalization. There, more than one million people have faced arrest for marijuana-related crimes in the past 30 years. The state's new system automatically seals records after ten years while simplifying the expungement process for more recent convictions.
Automatic or "clean slate"-style expungement continues to grow in popularity; Illinois adopted a program to implement it as well. For certain classes of cannabis convictions, the state will remove an individual's records from view without any added input. If an employer were to then use a standard background check, such as backgroundchecks.com's US OneSEARCH, the expunged records would not be available. Officials in many states hope that it may be possible to undo some of the damage caused by years of now-irrelevant arrests.
While some states move towards automatic expungements and other processes designed to make it easy to access a second chance, not all have done so. In fact, New Jersey's previous system was known for its difficulty and complexity, often putting actual expungement out of reach even for those who would otherwise be eligible.
Understanding expungement eligibility and determining the next steps to take is not always easy for ex-offenders. At backgroundchecks.com, we've partnered with MyClearStart to reduce the frustration that is common in exploring expungement procedures.
With MyClearStart, individuals can make an initial assessment regarding their level of eligibility based on their state of residence and the details of their criminal history. For those deemed suitable candidates, MyClearStart can connect them with a qualified lawyer to take next steps. Whether for a cannabis conviction or another minor, non-violent offense, record sealing and expungement can help to open new doors and restore lost opportunities.