Erasing Criminal Records: A State-by-State Update on Cannabis Law Reform

By Andrew Ward

Cannabis reform continues to grow across the country. As of May 2021, 31 states and the District of Columbia have either legalized or decriminalized the plant in some form. And 41 states, two territories and Washington, D.C. have record clear parameters that may apply to a cannabis offender.

Depending on the state, there may also be parameters to correct some of the horrific pains caused by the decades-long, ongoing drug war. Criminal justice reform isn't always tied to legalization though. Despite passing pro-pot laws, not every state has done the same to address those affected by the criminal justice system. The result leaves thousands still in prison, with many more still living with the burden of a nonviolent cannabis offense on their record. With hope, they will one day gain a clear record and their freedom like thousands of others have had in recent years.

Here is where each state stands on cannabis legalization and what is being done to address the effects of the war on drugs:

Alabama

In May 2021, Alabama passed its medical cannabis laws. The state currently doesn't have regulations for cannabis-based pardon programs, expungement or clemency. However, in April, Birmingham, Alabama automatically pardoned over 15,000 cannabis convictions. 

Alaska

Alaska allows adults over 21 to participate in its adult use program. However, the state has not passed legislation focused on cannabis record reform in any fashion. 

Arizona

Arizona expanded from medical to adult use in 2020. Part of its market growth included record expungement. As of July 2021, when petitioned, courts are obligated to expunge arrest records, charges and convictions for specific offenses focused on possession, consumption, transportation and cultivation.

Arkansas

Arkansas legalized medical cannabis in 2016. In 2021, the state made improvements to its petition-based expungement process. However, the legislation does not explicitly address cannabis.

California

Adult use cannabis was enacted in California in 2016. When it comes to record reform, the state allows for any cannabis offender to petition the court to have their case dismissed and sealed, resentenced or redesignated. A hearing is not required to complete the process unless the prosecution contests the petition. 

Colorado

The state is one of six to have a cannabis pardon program for offenders possessing up to two ounces. The ruling followed earlier legislation, including the 2017 decision to seal misdemeanor records when petitioned. In 2021, cannabis was added, providing mandatory record relief for many cases. 

Connecticut

Connecticut recently legalized cannabis in July 2021. As part of its efforts, the state included petition-based and automatic record expungement parameters for certain offenses. The petition program is expected to begin in July 2022, with automatic expungement arriving in January 2023.  

Delaware

Delaware currently allows for medical cannabis use and has decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis. The state enables adults who committed a single criminal offense before July 31, 2019 to petition for their record to be cleared. However, the petitioner must also have committed their crime as a minor to qualify. 

Florida

Florida has enacted a medical cannabis program, taking effect in 2016. No current bills are focused on cannabis record relief. However, an April 2021 bill has offered some hope that the state could revise at least some records in time.

Georgia

Georgia has one of the most limited medical programs, with decriminalization offered in a few select cities. The state does not have any record reform laws focused on cannabis offenses. 

Hawaii

Hawaii allows for medical use while also decriminalizing up to three ounces of cannabis possession. The state also allows anyone with a possession offense under three ounces to petition for an expunged record. To qualify, the person cannot have any other charges brought against them. 

Idaho

Idaho remains one of the remaining states not to pass any cannabis or record reform laws. 

Illinois

Illinois legalized adult use cannabis on New Year's Day 2020. The state allows for record expungement of what they deem minor cannabis offenses, meaning anyone caught possessing or selling less than 30 grams of pot before June 25, 2019.  

Indiana

Indiana legalized a limited medical cannabis program. It has not instituted any cannabis-centric record reform laws. 

Iowa

Iowa is one of the more restrictive states, limiting cannabis use to hemp-based products. The state allows some cannabis records to be cleared through a deferment program. However, some Iowans have gone to court, alleging that their supposedly cleared criminal history continues to affect their job prospects. 

Kansas

A medical cannabis bill is expected to be considered in Kansas in 2022. However, until then, pot remains illegal, and offenses aren't likely to be considered for any form of reform. 

Kentucky

Kentucky currently only allows for legal CBD use. Lawmakers shot down a 2020 medical legalization bill, and the state does not have any cannabis-centric record reform laws in place. 

Louisiana

Louisiana expanded its once limited medical program in 2021. Building on the momentum, possession of up to 14 grams was decriminalized that year as well. However, the progress has not reached record reform and prisoner release has not been addressed in any passed legislation. 

Maine

Maine legalized adult use cannabis, becoming law in 2018. In 2021, a proposed bill to seal minor offenses was introduced. 

Maryland

Maryland permitted medical cannabis but has not done the same for adult use. The state also decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams. However, Maryland does not have any cannabis-specific record reforms enacted.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts allows for adult use cannabis in the state and immediately seals records that are no longer considered crimes. 

Michigan

Michigan legalized cannabis through a 2018 ballot measure. In 2020, the state offers opportunities to expunge felonies and misdemeanor cannabis crimes. 

Minnesota

Minnesota legalized medical cannabis and has decriminalized possession up to 42.5 grams. Those with misdemeanor cannabis offenses under 42.5 before April 11, 1976, can petition for expungement. 

Mississippi

Mississippi voters passed a medical cannabis law in 2020 but have since seen it overturned by the state Supreme Court. It has no cannabis record reform laws in place. 

Missouri

Missouri allows for medical cannabis use and has partially decriminalized cannabis offenses. It does not have any cannabis record reform laws on the books so far. 

Montana

Montana legalized adult use cannabis in 2021. Part of its passage included the possibility of record expungement for anyone previously convicted or currently serving a sentence for certain cannabis offenses. 

Nebraska

Nebraska remains a cannabis reform hold out, not passing any plant or record legislation as of Spring 2021. 

Nevada

Nevada legalized adult use cannabis in 2017. In June 2020, the state passed legislation that summarily pardoned anyone convicted of possessing one ounce or less between January 1986 and January 2017. Others convicted of crimes that are no longer deemed an offense can petition for their record to be sealed. 

New Hampshire

New Hampshire allows for medical use and has decriminalized possession of up to 21 grams. Those convicted of a cannabis crime involving less than three-quarters of an ounce can petition for the arrest and record to be annulled. 

New Jersey

New Jersey lawmakers passed adult use in 2021 after a successful ballot initiative the year before. Since 2019, the state has been expanding its expungement process. In 2021, automatic expungement was passed for any case before February 22, 2021 that involved cannabis. 

New Mexico

In 2019, New Mexico passed adult use legislation. In 2021, it passed automatic expungement laws, qualifying any person charged or convicted with a cannabis offense that is no longer a crime or would have resulted in a lesser sentence. 

New York

New York legalized adult use cannabis in 2021. In 2019, the state took steps to vacate and expunge cannabis convictions automatically. In 2021, those parameters were expanded, allowing more individuals to qualify. 

North Carolina

North Carolina currently has a limited medical program that does not address cannabis record reform. 

North Dakota

North Dakota allows for medical cannabis. The state also allows first-time possession offenses to be sealed. In 2019, the state adopted a Pardon Advisory Board, which advises cannabis offenders to apply after going five or more years without a conviction. 

Ohio

Ohio allows for adult use cannabis, and was one of the early proponents of decriminalization, passing legislation concerning up to 100 grams of cannabis back in 1975. The state expanded its expungement program in 2021 but did not specifically address cannabis. 

Oklahoma

Medical cannabis use is legal in Oklahoma. However, the state does not address expungement, record sealing or any other efforts in its legislation. 

Oregon

Oregon enacted its adult use cannabis laws in 2014. The state has also attempted to streamline its setting aside and reducing of convictions. Today, applicants can file through an online filing system. 

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has an active medical cannabis program. In 2019, the state revised its review program to expedite the record reform process for nonviolent cannabis offenses.

 Rhode Island

Rhode Island legalized its medical program in 2006, and decriminalization took effect in 2013. However, lawmakers have not moved on adult use so far, with the bill still pending. Applicants can attempt to have their record expunged if their offense was decriminalized after the conviction. 

South Carolina

South Carolina remains a strict market, allowing just low-THC CBD oil. No record reform options are offered at this time. 

South Dakota

South Dakota's medical market was legalized via a 2020 ballot initiative. It now awaits implementation. Adult use passed the same night, but its constitutionality is currently being contested in the state Supreme Court. The state boasts some of the harshest cannabis punishments on the books and does not offer options for record reform. 

Tennessee

Tennessee is another state with just CBD and a limited medical program legalized. It has no criminal justice reform parameters in its legislation. 

Texas

In 2021, Texas expanded its limited medical program. Meanwhile, cities like Dallas and Plano are now practicing limited enforcement, or are passing decriminalization legislation. However, no record reform bills are in place. 

Utah

In 2018, Utah expanded on its previously CBD-only regulations with the passage of medical cannabis. The state has also streamlined its expungement process for possession-based offenses, eliminating the need for a certificate of authenticity to qualify. 

Vermont

Vermont legalized adult cannabis use in 2018. Individuals can petition to have their offense expunged if it is no longer deemed a crime by the state. In 2020, the state passed automatic expungement legislation for possession offenses under two ounces that occurred before January 1, 2021. 

Virginia

Virginia recently passed adult use cannabis laws and will see the program incrementally roll out over several months to years. The bill automatically expunged past misdemeanors while allowing other offenders to petition for the same outcome. Provisions are expected to begin July 1, 2025. 

Washington

Like Colorado, Washington state blazed the adult use trail in America, passing legislation in 2012. Today, Washington allows for adults with misdemeanor offenses to apply for a record vacancy. The state also has pardoned several past cannabis offenders through the Governor's orders. 

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. has permitted adult use and medical cannabis since 2014. However, federal laws prohibit sales and restrict the law from applying to roughly 30% of the district's land. Sales do occur through loopholes but are technically illegal. D.C. allows for records to be sealed if the offense is no longer criminal and did not result in any other local or federal charges.

West Virginia

West Virginia permits medical cannabis use but does not offer any record reform options. 

Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a leading producer of hemp and has allowed CBD in recent years. However, it is otherwise strict on cannabis. In June 2021, an expungement bill not explicitly focused on cannabis passed the House. As of June 3, 2021, the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety haf recommended the bill. No movement has occurred since. 

Wyoming

Wyoming remains strictly anti-cannabis, with no plant or record reform laws on the books so far.

Be sure to stay up to date on all the marijuana movements in America. With 2022 and 2024 fast approaching, many states could soon expand their cannabis laws.