Arizona is on track to moving in a positive direction and righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs. Cannabis-related arrest records can wreak lasting damage—thwarting job opportunities, housing or even student loan programs.
On March 7 of this year, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) issued a press release, announcing the expansion of efforts to assist the local community through expungement of cannabis arrest records, as well as a numerical milestone for the region.
As of that date, MCAO had filed over 10,000 petitions to expunge eligible closed cases involving cannabis. The majority—over 7,000 of those petitions—were filed in cases handled by the office since 2016. MCAO representatives mentioned that they limited the filings to about 500 a week to avoid overwhelming the court system.
This is most likely a reaction to the expungement program’s slow start last year, but the MCAO is confident the process is refined and well underway, and that they will be able to make significant progress.
Individuals in Arizona with certain cannabis-related convictions on their records became eligible to have their criminal records expunged, or cleared. The provisions are available under Proposition 207, or the Arizona Safe and Smart Act. The process began several months ago.
Starting the day the new law went into effect, the MCAO began proactively filing petitions to expunge the convictions for eligible people who had previously been charged. These petitions included individuals convicted of certain cannabis-related offenses and individuals charged with a cannabis offense who successfully completed a diversion program but still had an arrest and dismissal on their criminal record.
“I believe that the will of the voters should be implemented as efficiently as possible,” said Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel. “My office is working diligently to continue to identify those cases and assist individuals who have a right to have their records expunged under this voter approved law.”
The MCAO cited “resource limitations,” forcing them to prioritize the most recent cases.
In addition to filing for expungement proactively, MCAO also created a public website where individuals can ask prosecutors to review their case. If they are eligible, a MCAO representative can file a petition to expunge their conviction.
KTAR reports that those who were arrested, charged, convicted or acquitted of certain cannabis-related offenses were able to apply online to the Superior Court to have their records erased. There is no fee to file the petition.
Per the law, expungement petitions are limited to three offenses:
- Possessing, consuming or transporting 2.5 ounces or less of cannabis—of which not more than 12.5 grams is in the form of concentrate.
- Possessing, transporting, cultivating or processing no more than six cannabis plants at the filer’s primary residence for personal use.
- Possessing, using or transporting paraphernalia “related to the cultivation, manufacture, processing or consumption of cannabis.”
If a request for expungement is granted by the court, the case file and law enforcement records related to the charge will be sealed and not available to the public.
The MCAO providing the following numbers to highlight the updates:
- Since July 12, 2021, MCAO filed 10,607 expungement petitions in closed cases, including 1,094 petitions generated from 1,340 inquiries initiated through the public website.
- The office has also responded to approximately 1,186 petitions filed by individuals, either themselves or through an attorney.
Immediately following the certification of the election, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office filed motions to dismiss pending cases in Maricopa County affected by the new law.
The MCAO proactively filed to dismiss or drop over 5,000 charges related to the use, transportation or cultivation of adult-use cannabis.
Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.