Missouri Courts Expunge Over 7,500 Marijuana Records

Passage of Amendment 3 kick-started a process to expunge criminal records related to nonviolent marijuana offenses

Feb 27, 2023 at 2:07 pm
click to enlarge The majority of expunged convictions so far are misdemeanors. - Lindsey Fox/FLICKR
The majority of expunged convictions so far are misdemeanors.

Over 7,500 Missourians have had their marijuana criminal records expunged from public record after a constitutional amendment legalized recreational weed in Missouri. 

Last fall, voters approved Amendment 3, which not only legalized recreational cannabis in Missouri but kick-started a process to expunge criminal records related to nonviolent marijuana offenses that otherwise would have been legal had Amendment 3 always been a part of Missouri’s constitution. 

The majority of expunged convictions so far are misdemeanors. As of Tuesday, courts have granted 6,121 expungements for misdemeanors related to nonviolent cannabis offenses that did not involve selling to minors or driving under the influence of cannabis. More than 1,200 felony convictions have also been expunged. 

“It’s going faster than I expected,” says Dan Viets, secretary of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and co-author of Missouri's medical and recreational cannabis laws. 

Courts are indeed moving faster on the expungements than they’re constitutionally required. 

Amendment 3, now Article 14 of the state Constitution, established deadlines for when sentencing courts must expunge certain crimes. One deadline is fast approaching — sentencing courts must complete adjudication for misdemeanors of people currently in prison or jail by March 8. But most deadlines to expunge other crimes are at least 3 1/2 months away.

Circuit courts have until June 8 to order the expungement of criminal history records for all misdemeanor marijuana offenses of people no longer under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. And they have until December 8 to expunge criminal histories of people who already completed their sentences for felony marijuana offenses that are no longer crimes.

Questions about how Missouri’s court system could sustain the expected influx of expungement requests circulated before Amendment 3’s passage in November. In October, the Missouri Supreme Court requested almost $7 million to cover the cost of erasing eligible marijuana convictions. The Missouri Office of State Courts Administration also submitted a supplemental budget request asking for $2.5 million to cover clerks’ overtime and hire additional information technology staffers. 

But Amendment 3 is a “self-funding mandate,” according to Viets. 

Yes, courts are mandated to do extra work. But, by the end of this month, the state will start receiving sales taxes from the highly lucrative launch of adult-use sales that began February 3, according to Viets. The state is required to use this money to help cover the cost of granting expungements.

Since the state has yet to reap the benefit of adult-use sales tax, Viets says he’s surprised courts have acted so quickly on the expungements.

“I thought clerks might wait until they got some money to hire additional people or pay overtime to their existing staff,” Viets says. “But at least 40-some counties are not waiting on that — they’re plunging right ahead and reviewing cases and expunging them.”

Even so, only 60 out of Missouri’s 114 counties have recorded expungements of marijuana-related criminal records. And some counties have reported far more expungements than others. 

St. Louis city, for example, has so far expunged just two felony convictions. Meanwhile, Clay County in the Kansas City-area has expunged 1,335 marijuana convictions as of Tuesday. 

Even fewer counties have accepted petitions from people currently incarcerated. As of Tuesday, according to data from the Missouri Supreme Court, 25 counties have filed petitions. Most counties have received just one or two petitions. Jackson County ranks the highest with six petitions received. (Data received by the RFT may not reflect petitions that clerks have not yet had the opportunity to process.)

“It’s kind of all over the place across the state,” Canna Convict Project co-founder Christina Frommer says. “Some judges are really open and willing to expunge the records and others are still fighting it.”

Amendment 3 divided the state’s cannabis community before its passage in part because advocates felt it didn’t go far enough getting marijuana-related offenses expunged from criminal records. 

Canna Convict Project, a Missouri nonprofit that works to release Missourians from prison for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses, was one group that opposed the amendment. Its members would have rather seen a separate measure, Fair Access Missouri, legalize recreational cannabis in the state. 

Fair Access called for a broad sweep of expungements for all cannabis-related offenses except for “dangerous” felonies and distributing cannabis to people younger than 17. These expungements hinged on charged people filing for release, rather than “automatic” expungements laid out in Amendment 3 for certain crimes. Now the amendment’s seemingly smooth expungement process is surprising some of its staunchest critics.

“I’m honestly shocked about the way this is actually playing out,” Frommer says.

After its passage, Amendment 3 became the first measure to automatically expunge marijuana offenses. Those eligible for automatic expungement are people on probation or parole for marijuana offenses involving three pounds or less. 

But “automatic” doesn’t necessarily mean “immediate.” Rather, a person is not required to take any action with the courts to get their eligible cannabis records expunged. 

Those whose records have been expunged will receive notice of their expungement from their sentencing court.

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