CLEVELAND — The city of Cleveland is working to wipe clean thousands of low-level marijuana convictions but not as originally planned. Last month, the Bibb administration touted a plan to expunge thousands of misdemeanor cases.
But it hit a snag.
The city is now hoping to vacate, in stages, the 4,000+ cases dating back to 2017.
“I hope we can have a catch net for anybody who’ve had these small infractions really disrupt their lives—that’s what this is about,” Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin said.
There were some hiccups in the original plan.
Only individuals can seek expungement.
“There was some subtleties that we had to make sure we worked through,” said Griffin.
The city ordinance that changed in 2020 wiped out penalties for marijuana possession of less than 200 grams.
Since then, just over 400 people found themselves wrapped up in new marijuana cases.
Those are now part of the 4,000 the city is hoping to vacate.
“I’m glad it was caught, I’m glad Prosecutor Jordan was able to flag that and make sure those folks the law that we applied to those 455 people too,” Griffin said.
The city law director tells News 5 they’re now filing motions. But because there are so many cases, they’re having to do this in sets of four so they don’t overwhelm the clerk of courts.
However, the law is still on the books. News 5 asked Council President Griffin what happens if police find someone in violation.
“The police department would have to make sure that they really talk to their rank and file to make sure they understand that this law is in place,” said Griffin.
Griffin says people need to be mindful of state laws.
“So if you’re in the metroparks, even if you’re in Cleveland or if you’re on the RTA, it’s not covered by the municipal ordinance,” Griffin said.
Marijuana is also illegal on the federal level.
“Some people see drugs as morally wrong,” said Case Western Reserve Professor Kevin McMunigal.
McMunigal is a former federal prosecutor in San Francisco and teaches a class on the war on drugs.
He says the feds aren’t typically interested in city stuff.
“In marijuana cases, the feds don’t usually get involved unless it’s a shipload like of really big cases,” McMunigal said.
Brian Adams with Sensible Cleveland says what’s happening in the city is an extension of his group’s initiative that began in 2015.
“I see it as a fantastic development that quite frankly wasn’t even expected,” Adams said.
Adams says it’s a relief for people with marijuana possession charges on their record.
“When you think about something looming over you something hovering over you for years and years and maybe affecting housing maybe affecting jobs,” said Adams.
Even though convictions would be wiped, arrests aren’t.
They can be sealed but the person has to request it.
So far, just under a dozen people have filled out the online form on the Cleveland Municipal Court website.
Law Director Mark Griffin says there will also be an estimated $139,000 in refunds to those who paid court costs and fines.
“When you alleviate that burden off of people’s lives then you in turn make a more productive tax paying citizen,” Council President Griffin said.
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