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American Medical Association Adopts Cannabis Expungement Resolution

Last week, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that it had approved a resolution requesting that states who have legalized marijuana or made them decriminalized to erase records that record arrests and convictions for cannabis-related crimes that no longer exist. The AMA is the most prominent professional organization for doctors in America. It announced last week that the change in policy was officially adopted at its Annual Meeting of the House of Delegates, held last week in Chicago.

In a statement, the AMA wrote that the goal of the policy change is “to introduce equity and fairness into the fast-changing effort to legalize cannabis.” The group notes that at least 18 states have legalized cannabis for use by adults and more than three dozen have passed legislation allowing for the use of medical weed. In many cases, however, people who have been convicted or arrested for cannabis crimes before the legalization laws were passed still bear the criminal records.

“This affects young people aspiring to careers in medicine as well as many others who are denied housing, education, loans and job opportunities,” said AMA trustee Scott Ferguson, M.D. “It simply isn’t fair to ruin a life based on actions that result in convictions but are subsequently legalized or decriminalized.” 

The AMA also noted that although arrest or conviction records can be expunged they often have collateral consequences like disqualification for eligibility for benefits, such as insurance. The group also demanded that expungement be made automated. This is because it often involves costly and complex procedures by the people seeking relief.

“Expungement is no panacea,” Ferguson said. “It can be a lengthy and expensive process. Automatic expungement would relieve people of having to figure out and pay for the bureaucratic steps necessary for sealing a criminal record.”

The new AMA policy calls for the immediate end to any probation or parole orders or other court-ordered supervision of cannabis-related crimes that will be later legalized. According to the group, cannabis prohibition laws are not being applied fairly. Members of historically marginalized communities bear the brunt for law enforcement and the negative effects of the War on Drugs. The AMA also stated that Blacks are 3.6x more likely than whites to be arrested in connection with a cannabis offense. However, data consistently shows that Blacks and other people use marijuana at approximately equal rates.

In addition to its call for state governments to expunge cannabis records, the AMA said that it would discuss expungement with relevant medical education and licensing authorities including the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and the Federation of State Medical Boards “to determine the impact of disclosure of a cannabis-related offense on a medical school, residency or licensing application.”

AMA still opposes cannabis legalization

Despite its support for clearing the records for cannabis convictions in states that have enacted marijuana policy reform, the AMA restated the group’s opposition to further efforts to legalize cannabis. The AMA cited potential negative effects on the health of marijuana use and supported pot prohibition laws.

“The AMA continues to oppose legalization of cannabis,” the association wrote in its statement. “Legalization of cannabis for adult use is associated with increased traffic fatalities, exposures reported to poison control (including infants and children), emergency department visits, and cannabis-related hospitalizations. Furthermore, the increasing prevalence of cannabis use in pregnant people is most concerning.”

Although the AMA is not onboard with furthering weed legalization efforts, the group’s published policy on cannabis “supports public health based strategies, rather than incarceration, in the handling of individuals possessing cannabis for personal use” and “encourages research on the impact of legalization and decriminalization of cannabis in an effort to promote public health and public safety.”

The cannabis policy, which was last updated in 2020, also notes that the AMA “will coordinate with other health organizations to develop resources on the impact of cannabis on human health and on methods for counseling and educating patients on the use cannabis and cannabinoids.”