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Cleveland Officials File Motions to Expunge 4,000 Cannabis Convictions |

City officials in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday filed motions to expunge more than 4,000 misdemeanor convictions for past cannabis offenses, making good on a 2020 ordinance to reform the city’s cannabis policy. 

Justin Bibb of Cleveland announced at an event at the Cuyahoga county Justice Center that the motions to expunge were filed. Aqueelah, the Cleveland assistant chief procuror, Blaine Griffin (council president) and Mark Griffin (law director), shared with journalists that this was an historic moment for Cleveland.

“Today’s event shows our commitment in the city of Cleveland to advancing criminal justice reform,” Bibb told reporters. “But it also gives folks all across the city and across this region a second chance at getting a good job and the quality of life that they deserve.”

The officials then presented the motions for expungement to clerks of the Cleveland Municipal Court, located in the county justice centre. They cover 477 misdemeanor cases involving possession of less than 200g (roughly 7 ounces) cannabis, dating back to 2017.

“This is the natural progression of what we (at council) wanted to see; first to decriminalize, then to have records expunged. Before we passed the legislation, we put together a working group with activists and criminal justice experts,” Griffin said in a statement from the city council. “As more and more states legalized marijuana, we wanted to position the city in that direction. For me, this has always been about criminal justice reform.”

Two years ago, the Reform Ordinance passed

Officials from Cleveland filed the expungement Motions to remove the cannabis possession limit. This was in response to the 2020 City Council ordinance that reforms cannabis policies. Ohio law states that possession up to 100g of cannabis can result in a $150 fine. Possession of between 100-200 grams could lead to a 30-day jail sentence and up to $250 fine.

While reviewing past weed cases, the prosecutor’s office identified 455 individuals who were mistakenly charged after the passage of the 2020 ordinance. These were among the many cases from 2017 which have been exonerated.

“Today, we are moving forward with a motion to expunge all cases of minor misdemeanor marijuana possession to honor the City’s legislation and eliminate criminal consequences,” said Jordan, who also called on the state of Ohio to expand its cannabis reform efforts to include recreational cannabis. The current state’s medical marijuana program is limited to patients who have certain qualifying medical conditions.

The city officials pointed out that, last week, Congress approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act. It is a bill which would allow for the decriminalization of cannabis at the federal level and the expungement of past cannabis convictions. Local measures may be able to help speed up the process.

“We are seeing progress in Washington on this issue, but it’s slow. There are immediate steps we can take right now in Cleveland to clear the names of over 4,000 residents who deserve a fresh start,” Bibb said in the statement from the city. “This is just one way we can make progress on criminal justice reform to balance the scales and remove barriers to employment and re-entry.” 

Michelle Earley (presiding judge) and the other Cleveland Municipal Court judges will review the expungement petitions. It is anticipated that the court will hear the motions and approve the expungements. These are not automatic according to the new ordinance.

“The judges have the right to rule on the motions and we will respect those rights,” Jordan said. “Our judges are very busy, and we are going to be very supportive of whatever time they need.”