The States Leading the Way in Reversing Old Cannabis Convictions

The States Leading the Way in Reversing Old Cannabis Convictions

Possibly the most dangerous aspect of cannabis use is the risk of criminal penalties.

For many U.S. cannabis consumers, life has been marked by a conviction for growing or possessing relatively small amounts of cannabis. Having a drug crime on record can often be an impediment to life in modern society – disqualifying people from jobs or assistance they may need to live.

Many states now offer programs that can change or seal criminal records that pertain to old cannabis crimes – making much-needed reparations for the War on Drugs while improving the lives of citizens.

These three states are leading in the fight to erase criminal records for cannabis:


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Already a forgiving state when it comes to minor crimes, Oregon is proactive in editing and sealing records from past cannabis-related offenses – including unlawful cultivation.

People convicted of cannabis crimes have several options in Oregon. When considering sealing someone’s record, the courts must analyze the case from the perspective of today’s cannabis laws, which have become significantly more lenient during the past three years.

Misdemeanors are almost always sealed, and some felonies can even be retroactively re-classified as misdemeanors, which can help open more doors for those harshly convicted in the past.


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The state of Colorado was one of the first to welcome legal adult-use cannabis with open arms. However, it took years to convince state lawmakers that taking care of old marijuana convictions was the right thing to do.

In 2014, the legislature threw out a bill to expunge old cannabis records, saying it set a bad precedent for other types of crimes if laws were to change in the future.

More recently, the state finally enacted a law that would allow for records from non-violent misdemeanors for cannabis possession or use prior to 2012 to be sealed.

However, it does not happen automatically; it is the responsibility of the individual to petition the court if they believe their conviction qualifies based on Colorado’s new cannabis laws and limitations.


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Though California was the first state to allow medical cannabis in 1996 and is arguably home to the highest concentration of cannabis consumers, the state did not decriminalize adult use until last year.

One key provision of Prop 64, California’s legalization measure, allowed for the reversal of prior misdemeanors related to cannabis. Unfortunately, the law left it up to individual cities and counties to actually go through the files and expunge these records.

A few localities, such as San Francisco and San Diego, jumped on board right away and began this process, but most did not.

Luckily, in October of 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1793 into law that would force the state’s Department of Justice to begin this process for all those whose convictions qualify. Now, California is well on its way to erasing every record that is no longer relevant.

The state of legalization

As more states plan to legalize, the issue of how to reverse past criminal convictions is becoming an important part of the conversation with regulators.

Massachusetts is a newly-legal state where expungement is becoming a reality, and activists in New Jersey are working it into its upcoming adult-use ballot initiative.

Clearly, much of the U.S. is on path to restoring justice to the cannabis community.

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