AMA Calls on States To Update Laws Related to Now-Legal Acts Involving Cannabis Use or Possession 

CHICAGO — The American Medical Association today adopted new policy at the Annual Meeting of its House of Delegates calling on states to expunge criminal records of people who were arrested or convicted of cannabis-related offenses that later were legalized or decriminalized. 

The policy aims to introduce equity and fairness into the fast-changing effort to legalize cannabis. Adult use of cannabis is legal in at least 18 states; at least 37 states legalized cannabis for medical use. Yet, those arrested or convicted for cannabis use or possession before legalization efforts continue to carry the baggage associated with a criminal record.  

“This affects young people aspiring to careers in medicine as well as many others who are denied housing, education, loans, and job opportunities. It simply isn’t fair to ruin a life based on actions that result in convictions but are subsequently legalized or decriminalized,” said AMA Trustee Scott Ferguson, M.D. 

Even if a record is expunged or sealed, that my not address all the punitive collateral consequences of the arrest or conviction such as qualification for public health benefits — a consequence at odds with the AMA’s support for affordable, equitable access to health care.  

“Expungement is no panacea. It can be a lengthy and expensive process. Automatic expungement would relieve people of having to figure out and pay for the bureaucratic steps necessary for sealing a criminal record,” said Ferguson.  

The policy also calls for ending parole, probation, or other court-related supervision because of a cannabis-related offense that is later legalized or decriminalized 

Data show disparate effects on historically marginalized and minoritized populations. People who are Black are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested than people who are White despite similar rates in usage. Expungement efforts aim to mitigate past harms of the legal system while also supporting economic and social opportunity for people with a record. More than 20 states have passed laws to expunge or seal records.