The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday issued temporary rules related to expungement procedures for individuals previously convicted for a pot-related offense.
As reported by local television station KPAX, the new adult-use recreational cannabis law in Montana “says anyone convicted of an offense that would now be legal in the state can petition to have their conviction removed from their record, get a lesser sentence for it or reclassify it to a lesser offense.”
On Tuesday, per Montana Public Radio, the high court “approved temporary rules that outline procedures for expunging or revising marijuana-related convictions.”
Those temporary rules “are effective upon approval and adoption by the Montana Supreme Court,” the state said, adding that they will remain in effect until “a marijuana conviction court is created as authorized by the [Montana Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act].”
KPAX, citing a state court administrator, reported that “the biggest clarification [the state] wanted to make was letting people know they could submit their expungement request to the court where they were originally sentenced.”
The administrator said there “had been some confusion because of a separate expungement procedure for misdemeanors that requires all defendants to go through district courts.”
Montana voters passed a legalization initiative in the 2020 election, and the new law took effect last summer when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 701 to implement the new adult-use cannabis program.
Gianforte said he was particularly impressed with the HEART Fund, which will use revenue from the recreational pot program to fund substance abuse treatment.
“From the start, I’ve been clear that we need to bring more resources to bear to combat the drug epidemic that’s devastating our communities,” Gianforte said after signing the legislation. “Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new support to Montanans who want to get clean, sober and healthy.”
Recreational pot sales began in January, and the state raked in $1.5 million in weed sales on its opening weekend. By the end of the opening month, recreational pot sales had generated almost $12.9 million in Montana.
Kristan Barbour, an administrator with the revenue department’s Cannabis Control Division, said in January that the “rollout of the adult-use program went off without any issues from the department’s supported IT systems.”
“We were able to successfully verify with (the) industry that our licensing and seed to sales systems were working on Friday to ensure a successful launch on Saturday, January 1, 2022. The successful launch was a result of staff’s hard work and planning over the past six month to meet the challenges of implementing HB 701,” Barbour told the Independent Record at the time.
But the expungement process has seen a few hiccups since the law began. A report from the Associated Press in January noted that while some lawyers in Montana have said that “expungement cases have sailed through the courts and that the process has been accessible,” others say “expungement petitions are still facing a roadblock: stigma against cannabis that lingers in some of the state’s district courts.”
According to the AP, the new cannabis laws in the state “tell judges hearing expungement petitions that they must presume the case qualifies unless a prosecutor can raise a legitimate issue against it,” and that the “entire proceeding may include a hearing, but state law doesn’t require one to obtain an expungement.”