City officials in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday filed motions to expunge more than 4,000 misdemeanor convictions for past cannabis offenses, making good on a 2020 ordinance to reform the city’s cannabis policy.
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb announced the filing of the expungement motions at an event held at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center. The mayor, appearing with Cleveland assistant chief prosecutor Aqueelah Jordan, council president Blaine Griffin, and law director Mark Griffin, told reporters that it was a historic day for the people of Cleveland.
“Today’s event shows our commitment in the city of Cleveland to advancing criminal justice reform,” Bibb told reporters. “But it also gives folks all across the city and across this region a second chance at getting a good job and the quality of life that they deserve.”
At the event, the officials presented the expungement motions to the clerks at the Cleveland Municipal Court located at the county justice center. The motions cover 4,077 misdemeanor weed cases for possession of 200 grams (about seven ounces) or less of cannabis dating back to 2017.
“This is the natural progression of what we (at council) wanted to see; first to decriminalize, then to have records expunged. Before we passed the legislation, we put together a working group with activists and criminal justice experts,” Griffin said in a statement from the city council. “As more and more states legalized marijuana, we wanted to position the city in that direction. For me, this has always been about criminal justice reform.”
Reform Ordinance Passed Two Years Ago
Cleveland officials filed the expungement motions in response to a 2020 city council ordinance to reform cannabis policy that eliminated the threat of fines and jail time for possessing less than 200 grams of cannabis. Under Ohio state law, possession of up to 100 grams of cannabis carries a fine of up to $150, while possessing between 100 and 200 grams is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $250.
While reviewing past weed cases, the prosecutor’s office identified 455 individuals who were mistakenly charged after the passage of the 2020 ordinance. Those charges were in addition to the thousands of cases since 2017 that prosecutors have determined are eligible for expungement.
“Today, we are moving forward with a motion to expunge all cases of minor misdemeanor marijuana possession to honor the City’s legislation and eliminate criminal consequences,” said Jordan, who also called on the state of Ohio to expand its cannabis reform efforts to include recreational cannabis. Currently, the state has a limited medical weed program for patients with certain qualifying medical conditions.
City officials noted that last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, a bill to decriminalize cannabis at the national level and expunge past federal cannabis convictions. But local measures can help move the process along.
“We are seeing progress in Washington on this issue, but it’s slow. There are immediate steps we can take right now in Cleveland to clear the names of over 4,000 residents who deserve a fresh start,” Bibb said in the statement from the city. “This is just one way we can make progress on criminal justice reform to balance the scales and remove barriers to employment and re-entry.”
The expungement motions filed by the city will be considered by presiding judge Michelle Earley and other judges of the Cleveland Municipal Court. The court is expected to hold hearings on the motions before approving the expungements, which are not automatic under the new ordinance.
“The judges have the right to rule on the motions and we will respect those rights,” Jordan said. “Our judges are very busy, and we are going to be very supportive of whatever time they need.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.