Efforts to expunge marijuana charges face challenges in Missouri counties

Several counties struggle to meet expungement deadline, while others make progress
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 4:53 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 5, 2023 at 6:14 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) -As the deadline for marijuana expungements approaches, many counties in Missouri are facing significant challenges in completing the process.

The Polk County courthouse, like several others, has encountered obstacles in locating and processing the necessary records dating back to the 1970s. Tiffany Phillips, the Circuit Clerk of Polk County, says this task at hand is huge.

“We are literally going up to the attic and searching for them,” she says. A vast amount of the collection of court documents was created before the age of digital.

Phillips has hired additional staff to focus exclusively on marijuana expungements.

“I have one girl, and that’s all she does is marijuana expungement,” she says. “And I have a lady who came back from retirement to help me out a couple of days a week.”

Polk County, along with several others, anticipates falling short of meeting the June 8, 2023 deadline. Taney County officials have already confirmed their inability to complete the expungements in time, with 400 cases still pending.

According to Phillips, expungement procedures can take up to an hour per case if all the records are readily available.

However, the task becomes more time-consuming due to the predominantly paper-based documentation from the pre-digital era. With thousands of records to sift through, the process can take several days.

Additionally, the challenge of locating individuals who lived at different addresses 30 to 40 years ago further complicates the task.

“We’re sending these out in the mail, and they’re all coming back undeliverable with no forwarding address,” Phillips noted.

The significance of expunging marijuana convictions is not lost on advocates like Dan Viets from the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. Viets expressed concern that many counties, including Gentry, Holt, Knox, Mercer, Putnam, and Ward, have yet to commence the process.

“The counties that are making a good-faith effort to follow the law deserve appreciation, and the counties that are making no effort at all deserve a kick in the pants,” Viets says.

He warned that failure to make progress could potentially lead to legal consequences for non-compliant counties. Expunging marijuana charges is crucial for individuals seeking employment, loans, or rental opportunities.

Viets highlighted the negative impact of a marijuana conviction on an individual’s record, stating, “Every employer, every lender, every landlord that they deal with looks up their record, and if they see a marijuana conviction, it certainly doesn’t help them.”

As the deadline looms, the efforts to expunge marijuana charges in Missouri counties continue. Greene County officials tell KY3 they will also not meet the deadline.

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