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Arizona court rules that marijuana convictions can be expunged
Today, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that prior convictions and arrests for the sale of marijuana are also eligible for expungement per the passage of Proposition 207 in 2020, a decision that could positively impact the lives of thousands of Arizonans with a marijuana-related record. Before this decision, it was unclear whether individuals charged with possession of marijuana-for-sale were eligible for expungement.
In State v. Sorensen, Appeals Court Presiding Judge Brian Furuya concluded that Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) § 36-2862(A)(1) makes “sale-related marijuana offenses” and marijuana convictions eligible for expungement, thus overruling the lower court’s denial of the petition for expungement that was submitted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) on behalf of the litigant. On July 15, 2021, MCAO filed a petition to expunge the 2014 conviction on behalf of the litigant, but that petition was denied by the court because the court ruled that the type of offense was ineligible for expungement.
“In sum, we conclude § 36-2862(A)(1) authorizes expungement of sale-related marijuana offenses when they otherwise satisfy the statute’s eligibility requirements,” Furuya wrote. “As a result, the court erred by denying the State’s expungement petition.”
“Today’s decision is a great embodiment of the will of the Arizona voters who elected to undo the harms caused by the overpolicing of marijuana laws,” said Martin Hutchins, lead attorney and program manager for the Reclaim Your Future campaign, a state-funded expungement effort that includes free legal aid providers in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff. “There are many people who were charged with for-sale offenses before the passage of Prop 207 even when they had minimal amounts of marijuana because other factors led officers to assume the person was some sort of dealer. The state and the cannabis industry is now making millions on marijuana sales, so it’s fortunate that people who were believed to have committed a sales-related offense can now benefit from expungement.
“This will allow them to mitigate the generational impact of their involvement with the criminal legal system,” added Hutchins, “which affects Black and Brown people and people of lower socioeconomic status at disproportionate rates.”
The passage of the 2020 voter initiative, Proposition 207, legalized adult recreational use of marijuana in Arizona and created a pathway to expungement. The Department of Health Services has since provided funding from medical marijuana sales to the Reclaim Your Future campaign for education and community outreach related to Prop 207.
The campaign is organized by a coalition of seven legal aid and community outreach nonprofits–Phoenix-based Arizona Justice Project, the Arizona State University Post-Conviction Clinic, and Community Legal Services; the Tucson-based University of Arizona Civil Rights Restoration Clinic, Just Communities Arizona, and Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.; and Flagstaff-based DNA Peoples’ Legal Services–to provide free resources and assistance related to expungement.