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Missouri courts expunged thousands of cannabis crimes, but more remain

Chile Verde Cannabis Flower at Good Day Farm Dispensary in the Central West End.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Chile Verde Cannabis Flower on Feb. 2 at Good Day Farm Dispensary in the Central West End.

Missouri voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment in 2022 did more than just open marijuana use to adults over 21: It also set into motion a six-month countdown to June 8, by which time all 115 of the state’s circuit courts would be required to complete expunging marijuana-related criminal convictions.

That deadline has come and gone. As predicted by attorneys and legal experts, some Missouri courts struggled to comply with the new law.

Dan Viets, an attorney and Missouri coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, criticized courts that he said “have made little or no effort to comply” with the law.

According to the organization’s findings, more than 44,000 marijuana cases, including over 10,000 felony convictions, were expunged before the deadline earlier this month. That includes Buchanan County, which leads the state with more than 2,000 cases expunged.

In St. Louis County, the courts have expunged more than 1,000 cases. Viets criticized St. Louis, which expunged around 200 cases, for not doing more before the deadline.

“I have little sympathy for those who say, ‘Oh, we just don't have time, we don't have the resources,” Viets told St. Louis on the Air. “Because for 100 years, they've been putting our clients in jail or in prison. … So undoing that damage should be a high priority. People of our state have told our courts to do it.”

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Viets discussed the complications facing court officials as they attempt to process thousands of expungements. Matt Schdmit, a public defender in Scott County — which expunged more than 1,000 marijuana cases by the deadline — observed that rural court systems often have to deal with paper records.

“It's just a lot of time, and the system wasn't set up for it,” he said. “And nobody was particularly motivated, right? This wasn't the courts petitioning to be able to do this. This is something that they were told to do by the voters. And people always drag their feet when they're told to do something like that.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."