Missouri courts preparing for marijuana expungements

The changes to the Missouri Constitution that voters approved as Amendment 3 this week will take effect in a little under a month, and the state's legal system is already preparing to take them on.

Amendment 3, which legalized the sale and use of recreational marijuana to those age 21 and older as well as created a licensure system and taxing policies, also includes a provision allowing non-violent marijuana offenders to petition for their release and parole. It would offer automatic expungement for marijuana-related offenses.

Legalization of the sale, possession and use of up to 3 ounces of marijuana takes effect Dec. 8. Within six months of it taking effect, circuit courts will be required to order the expungement of misdemeanor offenses and are given a full year to tackle felony marijuana offenses.

"This enormous step forward for criminal justice reform will result in hundreds of thousands of Missourians having their records cleared, at no cost to them, for an activity that is now legal," Legal MO 2022 Campaign Director John Payne said in a statement on Election Night.

While implementation will be free for those who will have their records cleared, the same can't be said for the legal system handling the task.

The judiciary's budget request, filed with the Office of Administration prior to Election Day, seeks $4.5 million for the cost of expungement, vacating sentences and creating an index of expunged cases for the 2024 fiscal year, which will begin in July. A possible supplemental request for the remainder of the 2023 fiscal year would cost $2.4 million.

According to the request, technological updates and programming would cost an estimated $360,000, while $4.18 million would be needed to support the increased workload of the courts, temporary staff and overtime expenses.

The request includes a glimpse at the expungement forms, which would ask petitioners to fill out the information about the judge or division that handled the case, the prosecutor's office and case numbers.

Paperwork and administrative components are being hashed out with the Missouri Office of State Court Administration (OSCA). The Office of the State Public Defender is also required to produce a pleading form for these purposes, according to Amendment 3's language.

Those on parole or probation for marijuana offenses that are no longer crimes under the amendment are to have their records automatically expunged as of the Dec. 8 effective date, per the measure, and the courts will not be able to assess filing fees for those expungements. Those having their records expunged are also set to receive certifications from the court as proof.

Expungement for offenses of amounts exceeding 3 pounds will likely have to be petitioned for, according to Missouri NORML.

The new index will record the person's name, offense, birth date and docket number. It will be confidential, only accessible to persons authorized by the courts.

Missourians voted to legalize recreational marijuana use Tuesday by 53 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State's Office.