After criminalizing cannabis for so long, more states across the US are shifting their policies and legalizing the plant. At least 16 states and Washington, DC, have made recreational weed legal, while 19 states have a medical cannabis program in place. New York celebrated when it became one of the latest states to join the recreational marijuana club. But in all of this excitement, there’s one issue that remains: What happens to all of the people who have criminal records because of weed?
Advocates like Jesce Horton and Jeannette Ward Horton are working to make sure restorative justice is served. The couple lives in Portland, Oregon, where recreational weed has been legal since 2014. Together, they co-founded the NuLeaf Project to make sure that Black and brown people can succeed in the legal cannabis market. After all, the Black and Latino community have suffered the most under marijuana laws.
In 2018, weed contributed to 40 percent of all drug arrests in the US. That same year, according to Pew Research, nine out of 10 marijuana arrests were simply for possession with no intent to distribute. More people were arrested for weed possession than cocaine, heroin, and synthetic drugs combined. Also, despite decriminalization of weed across the country, weed is still federally illegal and Black people continue to be targeted and criminalized three times more than any other group.
It’s hard to look at the billions of dollars funneling into the legal weed market, as 40,000 Americans sit in jail because of marijuana. But that’s exactly what’s happening. Even after being released, folks with weed-related convictions have a tall mountain to climb, and the Hortons can attest to that. They are both legal cannabis business owners who have experienced weed-related arrests, have gone through the expungement process, and have directed several expungement clinics.
“We needed to do better with expungement in Oregon,” Jeannette, who is currently leading the Oregon Equity Act, as the CEO of NuLeaf, tells Complex. “We had a rapid expungement on the books, but we really didn’t have automatic expungement, and that’s really becoming the standard.”
New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, New Mexico, Virginia, and Vermont have created opportunities for people to have their records automatically expunged—under specific circumstances. In other instances, the courts allow people to petition or apply for their weed-related convictions to be sealed, reduced, or removed.
As legalization spreads, new laws are vindicating many people. But even that process can be confusing, slow, and expensive—depending on where you live. Either way, it’s absolutely possible to remove weed-related offenses from your record. If you’re wondering how to get your weed record cleared, here are some steps that you should take.