The legislation that legalized the recreational use of marijuana last year included provisions to expunge and reduce prior convictions related to the use and sale of cannabis.
On Saturday, legal experts will explain how that process can be navigated.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office is working with attorneys from the Assigned Legal Counsel Program and the Legal Aid Bureau to host a clinic on the topic from 2 to 4 pm in Elim Christian Fellowship church, 70 Chalmers Ave. The clinic is free and it’s the second that the legal community has offered on the topic.
While in many cases, those convictions are supposed to be expunged automatically, it doesn’t happen instantly. Courts have until March 31, 2023, to implement the system to clear those records.
Also certain marijuana-related charges related to the sale and possession of large amounts of marijuana aren’t automatically expunged. They may be eligible to be cleared or a charge or sentence reduction.
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To speed along the process or to get the more complicated cases going, a motion must be filed in court.
A criminal conviction, even for a low-level marijuana crime, can be a barrier for people trying to find new housing, job or education, District Attorney John J. Flynn said in a statement.
“African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis, which has hindered their pursuit of certain opportunities in life,” Flynn said. “I hope to give a fresh start to our citizens who have been living with these criminal convictions by offering legal support to expedite the expungement or reduction process.”
“Expungement gives people the ability to apply for employment, schooling and housing without having a marijuana conviction negatively affect the better future they are hoping to achieve,” said Sarah Ryan of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc. in a statement.
To pursue a conviction reduction or expungement, attendees must show proof of identity and fill out an application and financial eligibility forms to allow attorneys to access court records and criminal history. Legal experts will appear at the sessions to answer questions about the expungement process, as not all marijuana convictions are included in the legislation.
Courts will automatically vacate convictions for most low-level marijuana offenses, including possession and sale of small amounts and growing cannabis at home. For some charges, the convictions are eligible for expungement only if the controlled substance involved was concentrated cannabis and not also something else.