Social Equity Check: Cannabis Record Expungement Programs in Legal States

A healthy industry is one that values and promotes social equity alongside the ideals of ethics and business responsibility. In our previous blog, we discussed the racist origins of cannabis prohibition and its impact on certain minority groups – let’s now assess the progress specific legal states have made in efforts to right some of the wrongs caused by unfair conviction.



Recently, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use – and has seen monumental numbers (with sales topping $100 million in October 2020) in both medical and recreational sectors. But, what about the many past low-level convictions that currently prohibit many Illinois residents from receiving their fair chance to succeed? There is good news. A new program, New Leaf Illinois, was launched in November 2020 by the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) — it aims to use tax revenue to help provide legal representation and other resources to help individuals who wish to expunge cannabis convictions from their records.



Colorado cannabis culture has been on the rise in the past few decades, and the growth of this sector shows no signs of stopping any time soon. As we enter a new decade, it’s important to assess where we stand when it comes to social equity in legal states. While it seems that the “Centennial State” is a bit behind when it comes to implementing a broad cannabis record expungement program, that doesn’t mean there are no actions being taken. Recently, Gov. Jared Polis made headlines when he moved to issue ‘narrow’ pardons for 2,732 marijuana related convictions.



California’s stance on cannabis has classically been progressive. In 1996, the “Golden State” passed Prop 215, the first voter-approved ballot initiative for medical marijuana in the United States. Since then, we’ve seen tremendous growth, from new cultivars, to new products and increased research and education. An extension of cannabis education is our responsibility to social equity, and oftentimes affected people simply don’t have the means or resources to seek expungement of their cannabis records. However, this has recently become much easier.  The state moved to identify all individuals eligible to have their records cleared – and to turn their files over to the applicable county district attorney for review, streamlining the process for nearly 220,000 people.



In 2008, Massachusetts passed a ballot initiative that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the state. Medical marijuana was approved in 2012, and in 2016 the “Bay State” voted to make recreational cannabis legal. This in turn raised the issue of indemnifying vast numbers of people with past low-level cannabis convictions. Although Massachusetts passed an expungement law that “gives people the chance to clear old charges,” many are dissatisfied with the tediousness of the process, and rightfully so. It’s understandable that a newly legalized state would go through growing pains when it comes to policy, however we hope that in the near future Massachusetts can adopt automatic (or streamlined) expungement systems similar to other legal states.


Washington State

The “Evergreen State” became the first in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana in December of 2012, with legal medical cannabis preceding it a few years earlier in 1998. It has also seen astronomical sales figures in the time since then, with legal cannabis sales topping $395 million in 2019. It was also in 2019 that Governor Inslee signed SB 5605, Concerning Marijuana Offense Convictions. This new law stipulates that any individual convicted of a misdemeanor possession offense may apply to have their records vacated in the county in which the offense occurred.


Moving Forward

As you can see, while there are positive things happening regarding the expungement of past cannabis conviction records, there is still a lot of work to be done. The NACB is proud to offer resources to help individuals and cannabis businesses navigate the current legal cannabis market. Keep following our blog page for more pertinent information, and be sure to also follow us on IG & Twitter!