As legislators across the country passed laws legalizing marijuana, people with past convictions for pot-related crimes wonder whether those reforms will help them. Some states have made pot expungements automatic as a function of its legalization. Other states seem to be dealing with the issue in a piecemeal fashion that leaves citizens with past convictions out in the cold.
The expungement journey described in this Vox article is the perfect illustration of this issue. In 2003, Massachusetts police pulled over a car that Khalil, the subject of the article, had been riding in with some friends. Officers claimed the vehicle matched the description of a car involved in a shooting. Even though the police didn't find anything related to the shooting in the car, Khalil was arrested and convicted of possession of less than a quarter-ounce of marijuana. Seventeen years later, that arrest continues to cast a shadow over Khalil's life and job prospects.
Pot Legalization Does Not Mean Fewer Pot Arrests
Despite the push for marijuana legalization nationally, police arrested more than 500,000 people for simple possession of marijuana in 2019 alone. That's more than the number of people arrested for all violent crimes in that year.
Studies make it clear that the majority of people involved in those arrests are African American. Black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, even though both groups use marijuana at similar rates. Because of these statistics, black people are disproportionately affected by the consequences of having a criminal record, including the inability to get a job, obtain professional licenses and certifications, get student loans and grants, or adopt a child.
Even when a state legalizes the use of marijuana, the process to get a pot-related conviction expunged still isn't easy. For example, in Massachusetts, a judge must find that it is in the “best interests of justice” to expunge a pot-related conviction. Most people will need a lawyer's help to meet that standard, and as described in the Vox article, a judge denied Khalil's expungement petition even though he had legal help.
PA Marijuana Expungement Laws
Though recreational use of marijuana has not been legalized in PA, the Board of Pardons' (“Board”) allows for the expedited review of pot-related pardon applications. Citizens can get both misdemeanor and felony marijuana-related convictions pardoned without having to wait the typical 2 1/2 or more years to be eligible for expungement of those offenses. Once pardoned, applicants can file a petition with the court for an expungement.
Similar to the process in Massachusetts, the standard for an expedited pardon in PA is subjective. It requires that applicants demonstrate how a pardon will improve their overall quality of life. To show this, applicants must present evidence meeting this standard clearly and persuasively. Most won't be able to do that without help from an experienced attorney.
If you are looking to remove a pot-related conviction from your record, having a seasoned attorney by your side will make all the difference. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience helping his clients with expedited pardons and can help you clear your record too. To get the help you need today, call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-5336.