Government officials have provided nearly 2 million marijuana-related pardons and expungements in recent years to those with low-level cannabis convictions on their records, according to a December analysis by NORML.
According to publicly available data, state and local officials have issued more than 100,000 pardons and more than 1.7 million marijuana-related expungements since 2018. States that have been most active in providing relief to those with past convictions include California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia.
“Hundreds of thousands of Americans unduly carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that most Americans, and a growing number of states, no longer consider to be a crime,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano said. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that public officials and the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”
In October, President Joe Biden became the first president to issue mass pardons to those with low-level, federal marijuana possession convictions. In a prepared statement, the president encouraged state officials to take similar actions.
To date, 24 states have enacted laws providing explicit pathways to either expunge (or otherwise set aside) the records of those with low-level marijuana convictions. In some cases, those eligible for expungement relief are not required to take any action. Instead, state officials automatically review past records and notify those who meet the state’s criteria for expungement. In other cases, state law requires those seeking to have their records expunged to petition the courts in order to have their records reviewed and vacated.
NORML estimates that police have made 29 million marijuana-related arrests since 1965. Of those arrested, some 90% were charged with low-level cannabis possession offenses.
— Brian Beckley