Cleveland, Ohio is speeding up the process to expunge records for low-level, misdemeanor cannabis convictions after a state bill unlocked the mayor’s power to do so.
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, who won office at age 34 as the city’s first millennial mayor, is once again connecting with his constituents and giving them what they asked for—cannabis expungements.
“I talked to so many residents who couldn’t get a job, who couldn’t get access to a student loan, who couldn’t get access to qualify for housing because they had collateral sanctions on their record, many of which stem from low-level marijuana convictions,” Bibb said.
Grants to cover filing fees and expungement clinics are rolling out to make expungements possible. “We knew we were going to face some uphill battles in the legal system,” he said.
Bibb also advocated for Senate Bill 288, which was signed into law by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine last January. The bill helps enable the city of Cleveland to provide expungements by removing barriers that previously hindered Bibb’s attempts to expunge records even earlier.
“We try to fight on behalf of our residents,” Bibb said.
Now that SB 288 was approved, Bibb and the city are free to take further action. The Bibb administration is working to notify eligible people with cannabis conviction records. After that, the city will file motions on behalf of those people using a $10,000 grant to help pay for filing fees related to expungement and the sealing of records. The city is working with organizations to host expungement clinics where people can file and close their cases, without going to court.
“So now cities and counties now have legal standing to expunge those minor marijuana misdemeanors all across the state of Ohio,” Bibb said.
Spectrum News 1 reports that Bibb’s actions were applauded by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “During college, I got a firsthand look at the justice system after being arrested for simple possession,” said NORML Program Director Morgan Fox.
“I would see the people that were there that had the exact same charges me with the exact same legal history as me, but who did not look like me getting significantly larger sentences, whether it be larger fines, longer probation or in some cases even jail time, just for very simple possession of cannabis.”
Bibb’s proactive measures are an example other leaders could follow.
“I think Mayor Bibb has ever shown fantastic leadership on this issue,” Fox said. “And, you know, from a national perspective, I wish there were a lot more people like him that were leading the way on starting these programs that directly affect the communities that they have been elected to lead.”
According to the Bibb administration, 838 people have received expungements after his office coordinated with the Biden administration. The mayor announced that he had assisted with over 4,000 court cases on April 4, with the goal to seal those records. “We will continue to spread the message that the City of Cleveland stands ready to help our citizens make positive steps forward in their lives,” Mayor Bibb said at the time.
The idea is to make the process simpler. “We understand that citizens don’t always want to engage in the criminal justice system, it’s not always user friendly. And sometimes it’s really hard for citizens to get access,” said Chief Prosecutor Aqueelah Jordan. “We can, as a city, do this on behalf of these residents who have been negatively impacted by historical inequities.”