After Legalization, Arizona Slowly Starts Deregistering Marijuana Offenses

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More than 10 years after Joel was first arrested for marijuana, he once again told the story of his high school transgression to a lawyer.

“I was with my brother and cousins,” he told Sen Umeda, one of the many lawyers volunteering at a legal clinic in the Ward 6 office in Tucson City. “We were going to the nightclub, which was 18 and over at the time. I just remember we were smoking in my car, and a cop rode on a bicycle, knocked on my window, and we got off. says, “Oh damn. There’s like a cop on a bike here. It was my first time getting arrested for weed. ”

After about 20 minutes, Joel was about to erase that charge from his criminal record – erasing it through a process called deregistration made possible by voters in Arizona last year when they passed Proposition 207. .

The initiative legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 and older.

And it has allowed those previously arrested, charged or convicted of minor marijuana-related offenses to erase those records.

We do not use Joel’s last name for his privacy.

But he made the trip from Phoenix to Tucson for the clinic hosted by the Arizona chapter of NORML, the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform.

Julie Gunnigle, director of policy at Arizona NORML and former candidate for Maricopa County attorney, estimated that about 250,000 to 500,000 people in the state are eligible for de-listing. This includes juvenile records and arrests, and offenses that have been charged as higher class crimes.

She said if someone gives an exact number, they are lying.

Sometimes the clinics are very popular, Gunnigle said, like Show Low’s earlier this summer. But other times only a few people show up. She argued that these slow clinics demonstrate that prosecution agencies should be more proactive in finding cases to be struck off.

“It illustrated the folly of making deregistration a process of membership. It should have been universal and automatic,” she said. “This should be the job that our 15 county prosecutors and our [attorney general] manage entirely on their own.

Sixty-nine deregistration requests had been filed in Pima County, according to the county attorney’s office on Tuesday.

The office said 42 had received partial write-offs, such as clearing the marijuana possession charge, but not a paraphernalia charge. And a petition was denied, but the prosecutor’s office is asking for reconsideration.

Gunnigle said some people find it hard to believe the delisting is real or that they have gotten used to life with their charges on their record.

But others want their case cleaned up, she said. They want to regain access to public benefits, student loans, housing, the right to vote and more.

“We are still not reaching the most marginalized in our society and those most criminalized by the war on cannabis,” she said.

In Joel’s case, he said he was stressed by the crime and the fines that became a criminal restitution order. From now on, when it obtains its tax return or if it sells its vehicle, the State applies a reduction on its restitution balance.

“If they are written off, it will be a new life for me. It will no longer be on my file,” said Joel.

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that black people in Arizona are three times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white people in Arizona.

Zsa Zsa Simone-Brown is part of Acre 41, an organization run by black women that tries to educate people about fairness issues in various industries, including marijuana.

“We are what, three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis? However, we have no property in the space, so we are trying to find some fairness in there,” she said.

Proposition 207 has a social equity component, setting aside 26 licenses for “individuals from communities disproportionately affected by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws.”

At Simone-Brown, it’s black and brown communities that are disproportionately arrested for marijuana-related offenses. But the Arizona Department of Health has four broader qualifications for these licenses and three of them must be met to be eligible. They look at household income, whether people live in these communities disproportionately affected by past marijuana laws, whether they have been negatively affected by those laws through a parent’s conviction, and whether they have themselves. even been affected by these laws – such as those eligible for write-offs. .

For those interested in deregistration, Arizona NORML has an online petition portal on its website, and for those curious about Social Equity Licensing, ADHS will accept nominations in December.

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