Missouri courts request $3.7 million to continue arduous marijuana expungement process

Marijuana Charge expungement in Missouri news graphic
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(Missouri Independent) – Missouri circuit courts have expunged more than 100,000 marijuana charges from individuals’ criminal records, fulfilling a key component of the constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana in 2022.

Court officials face challenges in determining the remaining number of cases due to the lack of digitization in many court records. Initially, the state identified potential cases for expungement in digital records and forwarded this information to the circuit courts.

Betsy AuBuchon, Clerk of the Missouri Supreme Court, during a House appropriations committee meeting on Wednesday, stated, “We’ve had about 100,000 cases expunged, but the total number left is uncertain.” She mentioned that approximately 10% of the cases reviewed so far have been deemed eligible for expungement.

AuBuchon requested an additional $3.7 million for the upcoming budget year to assist Missouri courts in completing marijuana expungements. By law, revenue from taxes on recreational marijuana sales and associated business fees must initially cover the state’s costs of regulating the program and then support the court system in expunging specific marijuana offenses.

Last year, lawmakers allocated $4.5 million for state courts to manage the extensive expungement process, with an additional $2.5 million approved on May 5. Circuit courts must apply for reimbursement from the Circuit Court Budget Committee, which manages the special assistance program.

Beth Riggert, communications counsel of the Missouri Supreme Court, reported that $4.2 million has been distributed to county courts. Funds are allocated to any circuit court upon request. However, some courts have not requested special assistance due to the complexity of the task and a lack of qualified personnel, such as experienced or retired clerks.

As of Jan. 2, Missouri courts have granted 103,558 expungements. Greene County leads with 4,306 expungements, having received nearly $940,000 in funding. Laclede County follows with 3,515 expungements, despite its smaller population of 36,000 and funding of just over $35,000. St. Louis County, with a population exceeding one million, has processed 3,479 expungements and received around $135,000.

Franklin County and Jackson County are also notable, with 3,200 and 2,900 expungements respectively. The deadline for expunging all marijuana-related misdemeanors is set for June 8, and felonies by Dec. 8. State Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern inquired about the timeline for clearing the backlog, to which AuBuchon could not provide an estimate.

In Greene County, Circuit Clerk Bryan Feemster has employed retired clerks for part-time expungement work since February. The Office of State Court Administrator provided a pre-screened list of potential marijuana-related cases. Feemster’s team also manually reviews thousands of paper files for cases predating 1989.

The process contradicts the notion of “automatic expungements” promoted during the 2022 campaign for the marijuana ballot measure. AuBuchon emphasized the labor-intensive nature of the task, relying mostly on experienced personnel.

Other counties like Johnson County, led by Circuit Clerk Marcy Anderson, face similar challenges. Anderson’s team, assisted by a judge and a retired clerk, has completed 529 expungements and received nearly $18,000 in funding. Simultaneously, these counties are working on large-scale redaction projects for online court record access, requiring additional resources.

In Jackson County, court clerks have reviewed over 20,000 files, leading to nearly 3,000 expungements. Valerie Hartman, spokeswoman for the 16th Judicial Circuit Court, mentioned the ongoing efforts to access older criminal databases for further review, though the exact number of pending cases remains unknown.

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Rebecca Rivas


Rebecca Rivas covers civil rights, criminal justice, and immigration. She has been reporting in Missouri since 2001, most recently as a senior reporter and video producer at the St. Louis American, the nation's leading African-American newspaper.