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Rhode Island Supreme Court Issues Marijuana Expungement Order Under Legalization Law!

In light of last year’s passage of a bill legalising the use of marijuana in the Ocean State, the state’s highest court authority has issued updated guidelines for sealing relevant criminal records.

On Friday, Chief Justice Paul Suttell of the State Supreme Court issued an executive order outlining the policies and procedures for locating and expunging the records of individuals with prior misdemeanour and felony cannabis possession crimes.

The expungement provisions in the legalisation bill acknowledge “the severely detrimental impact upon those previously convicted or civilly violated for low-level, non-violent offences for possession of marijuana,” as stated in the ruling.

About 27,000 persons with sole cannabis convictions and thousands more with a marijuana offence on their record will have their records expunged, and it will be the responsibility of the Superior and District Courts and the Traffic Tribunal to find qualifying cases and process them.

To expunge a criminal record, “the Presiding Justice of the Superior Court and the Chief Judge of the District Court shall write appropriate orders expunging the record of conviction and ordering that any reference to the conviction be removed from public inspection,” as stated by the order. Once entered, “said orders shall be sealed.”

The courts would have to send the expungement cases to the state attorney general’s office for consideration before proceeding with the requests. The Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles would need to be informed of any civil expungement actions that apply.

Possession of fewer than 20 grammes of marijuana would require expungement within three months of discovery. The date for expungement would be July 1, 2024, for more complicated cases including other crimes.

Expedited expungements can also be requested through the judicial system. Those who submit the request would not be charged any money, and their application would be approved within five business days at the most.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans unnecessarily suffer the burden and shame of a prior conviction for behaviour that most Americans and an increasing number of states no longer believe to be a criminal,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said on Monday. Justice and fairness require rapid action by government authorities and the judicial system to rectify the injustice of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.

In recent years, numerous governments and territories have made efforts to reduce the consequences of previous marijuana offences.

The governor of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) has recently approved two pieces of legislation that will decriminalise marijuana and make it easier to get cannabis convictions expunged from one’s record.

In addition, the governor of Ohio approved a landmark criminal justice reform bill that will allow cities to assist bulk expungements for people with certain drug-related convictions, including marijuana possession of up to 200 grammes.

Last month, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. approved a criminal justice reform measure that included a new provision to automatically expunge records of marijuana possession for offences that occurred before the District enacted a limited cannabis legalisation statute in 2014.

According to a new analysis from NORML, approximately 2 million people have had their minor marijuana convictions cleared by state officials.

President Joe Biden approved a blanket pardon for federal marijuana possession offenders in October, setting the stage for the recent clemency proceedings. Governors, he urged, should provide similar aid at the state level.

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Mohit Sharma

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