More than 10,000 convictions for past marijuana offenses have been cleared in Maricopa County, Arizona over the last seven months, according to information recently released by county officials. The cannabis expungements were granted under provisions of Proposition 207, the ballot initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis passed by Arizona voters in November 2020.
Propositions 207 allowed for the expungement of cannabis-related convictions for offenses no longer illegal under the statute. On the day the law went into effect last summer, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office began proactively submitting petitions for expungement for eligible people.
The petitions filed with the court covered individuals with certain cannabis-related convictions and defendants who were “charged with a marijuana offense who successfully completed a diversion program but still had an arrest and dismissal on their criminal record,” according to a statement from the county prosecutor’s office.
Immediately following the certification that Proposition 207 had succeeded at the polls in the 2020 general election, Maricopa County prosecutors filed petitions to drop pending cases affected by the new law. The policy led to the proactive dismissal of more than 5,000 charges for use, transportation or cultivation of recreational marijuana.
“I believe that the will of the voters should be implemented as efficiently as possible,” County Attorney Allister Adel said in a press release. Last week, Adel announced her resignation as county prosecutor effective March 25, following weeks of questions about her sobriety and absences from her office.
Since July, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has filed 10,607 expungement petitions for closed cases. The figure includes 1,094 expungements generated by more than 1,300 inquiries to a website maintained by the county to expedite the process. The website allowed individuals to ask prosecutors to review their cases and, if eligible, to file petitions to expunge their convictions.
The county attorney’s office has also responded to nearly 1,200 petitions filed by individuals, either personally or through an attorney. The office noted that due to limited resources, prosecutors prioritized the most recent cannabis cases for expungement. Of the more than 10,000 petitions to expunge closed marijuana-related cases, more than 7,000 were filed in cases prosecuted by the office since 2016.
Many More Cannabis Expungement Cases Pending
Mike Robinette, the executive director of the southern Arizona chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told the Phoenix New Times that Maricopa County is “being incredibly proactive” with the expungement process.
“And it’s great that they are now at 10,000 cases,” he added.
But Robinette also said that the number of cannabis expungements processed so far represents only a fraction of the eligible cases. Phoenix defense attorney Thomas Dean estimates hundreds of thousands of people could petition for their records to be cleared, based on data that show more than 10,000 people were arrested in Arizona for marijuana possession every year before legalization. As the state’s most populous county, many of those cases are likely to be from Maricopa County.
“We’re still not reaching the majority of people who are eligible for expungements,” Robinette said.
The Arizona Marijuana Expungement Coalition, a project funded by the Arizona Department of Health Services, holds workshops across the state to provide resources to help people file for an expungement. Martin Hutchins Jr., the marijuana expungement litigation manager with the Arizona Justice Project, one of seven organizations that form part of the state’s coalition, said that he is happy Maricopa County is acting proactively.
“They have a much greater ability to identify people, at a faster rate,” he said. “We look forward to more counties taking advantage of that aspect of the law so we can see even more people benefiting from expungement.”