/ Modified apr 18, 2024 4:51 p.m.

City Prosecutor’s Office reports progress in expunging marijuana offenses

A new internship with the University of Arizona College of Law is helping move expungement filings faster.

hutchins 1 Martin Hutchins, an attorney with Reclaim Your Future legal coalition, speaks at a marijuana expungement event in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday, April 18 2024.
Hannah Cree

It’s been almost three years since Arizonans were legally allowed to file for expungement of marijuana-related offenses, but progress has been slow on clearing the backlog of possession cases currently in Southern Arizona’s court systems.

Before this year, there were less than 50 filings since expungement began in July 2021, according to Matt Walker with Tucson’s City Prosecutor’s Office.

However, since January, Walker reported the Prosecutor’s Office has filed just under 500 expungement requests, and had about 200 granted.

At a press conference Thursday, legal experts said a new internship program with the University of Arizona College of Law was helping things progress faster.

“The law leaves access to expungement up to the individual to pursue,” said Mia Burchem, a third year law student who works at the Civil Rights Restoration Clinic providing free legal service as part of the program.

Understanding expungement is one of the biggest barriers people face in getting their charges cleared, said Martin Hutchings, an attorney with the Reclaim Your Future coalition.

“So many people aren't even aware that expungement is an option, and for those that are, they just might not have time to actually seek out help to do the application or the comfort to do the paperwork themselves,” he said.

The coalition is funded by the Department of Health Services and provides free legal help in filing for expungement.

The passage of Proposition 207 in 2020, which legalized marijuana, also made expungement possible in the state, but the Arizona Department of Health Services estimates there’s still about 200,000 marijuana-possession charges in the courts.

Legal experts said that getting expungement officially granted can take several years, and it’s important to start the process early.

But Hutchins says the benefits are worth it.

“So many more employment opportunities, more opportunities for safe housing, the opportunity to restore some of those civil rights, like purchasing a firearm, voting or even holding public office,” said Hutchins. “Although you may not see the benefit of it today, you could go for a job 10 years down the line and that record would come up. Now that expungement is an option, please take advantage of it.”

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