Officials in Erie County, New York announced last week that a series of cannabis conviction expungement clinics will be held in Buffalo beginning later this month, giving those with past marijuana offenses an opportunity to clear their records. The Erie County District Attorney’s office and the Erie County Bar Association’s Assigned Legal Counsel Program will host two expungement clinics, one later this week and the second next month.
When New York state lawmakers passed legislation to legalize recreational cannabis last year, they included provisions that allow those with past convictions for some weed-related offenses to have their records cleared. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in a statement on Thursday that expungement can help address the harms caused by the failed War on Drugs.
“Now that New York State has legalized recreational cannabis, we must act on behalf of the people whose lives have been unfairly impacted by a marijuana-related conviction on their criminal record,” said Flynn. “In particular, African Americans have been disproportionally impacted by the criminalization of cannabis, which has hindered their pursuit of certain opportunities in life. I hope to give a fresh start to our citizens who have been living with these criminal convictions by offering legal support to expedite the expungement or reduction process.”
Flynn’s office noted that a criminal conviction, even for a minor marijuana offense, can have a lasting impact on those affected. A criminal record can negatively impact finding employment and housing and can cause a loss of eligibility for some social programs including college financial aid.
“After years of injustice perpetrated against impoverished and minority populations through the criminalization of marijuana, the New York State Legislature legalized the possession and adult use of marijuana in 2021,” said Kevin M. Stadelmaier of the Erie County Bar Association Assigned Legal Counsel Program. “This landmark legislation takes dramatic steps to substantially reduce crime, improve negatively affected communities and redress unjust convictions which occurred under the now repealed statutory regime. A major component of the new law is the expungement of most marijuana related convictions; providing those clients affected by the former laws the ability to move forward unburdened.”
Automatic Expungement for Some Cannabis Convictions
New York’s cannabis legalization law allows for the automatic expungement of many pot-related offenses no longer illegal under state law, including low-level possession or sales of marijuana and cannabis cultivation. Convictions for other more serious cannabis offenses may also be eligible for expungement or a reduction in charges or sentences, but require a motion to be filed with the relevant court.
Once expunged, a conviction will no longer appear on a criminal background check and does not need to be disclosed when applying for a job, student loans or housing. The conviction record will be sealed and remain confidential except if applying for a pistol permit or employment with a law enforcement agency.
“Expungement of marihuana-related convictions is a step towards righting one of the many injustices suffered by members of disadvantaged communities in our city,” said Sarah Ryan of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc. “Expungement gives people the ability to apply for employment, schooling, and housing without having a marihuana conviction negatively affect the better future they are hoping to achieve. Allowing people access to realizing dreams results in a better and more prosperous society for everyone. The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo thanks all the participants who are working towards this worthy project.”
Erie County residents who believe they have an eligible weed-related conviction are encouraged to attend one of the upcoming information sessions. Those seeking expungement or reduction must sign and complete an application form and a financial eligibility form to allow legal experts to obtain a copy of the applicant’s Court records and criminal history.
Attorneys will review the records to determine each person’s eligibility for conviction expungement or reduction. If eligible, attorneys will file a motion with the Court for an expungement or reduction of the criminal charge. The motion will be brought before a judge and prosecutors will consent to the dismissal or reduction of the conviction at a court date expected to occur this autumn. Applicants will be notified if their conviction is not eligible for expungement or reduction.
The first expungement informational clinic will be held on Thursday, August 25, 2022, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. A second clinic will be held on Saturday, September 24, 2022, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Both events will be held at Elim Christian Fellowship on 70 Chalmers Avenue in the City of Buffalo.