The voter passed Smart and Safe Act of Arizona has prompted the state’s chapter for the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws/ NORML to be busier than normal, (pun intended). This expungement endeavor, aiding those affected by the war on cannabis, started on June 12th. Since then, the team at NORML and volunteer lawyers have helped prepare expungement documents for about 1000 people.
Each person and case is its own long-drawn-out story that Arizona NORML is proud to provide an ending to.
Director of Politics for Arizona NORML, Julie Gunnigle helped facilitate an expungement for a man who had a felony conviction from his teenage years. Since then, He has put himself through school and is becoming a school counselor. Gunnigle states, “that the previous conviction is the difference between his being able to have his dream job and license to practice.” Gunnigle continues on to comment, “that part of the story is common—cannabis convictions have placed professional goals unreachable for so many people.” By the time he walked out the door, Julie explains, “the look on his face was like Christmas morning.” “He told me he didn’t think that expungement would happen in his lifetime,” Gunnglie finished.
Thinking of a lifetime, that’s how old many of these cases are. Arizona NORML has aided cases that aren’t even in the online database, some dating as distant as the 1970s. Volunteer attorney Mia Samartinean points out when remembering her most memorable expungement.
“I think the most memorable one was one of the first ones I did, where the guy had no paperwork, no idea when he was convicted but knew there were a bunch, and they went back really far, I think over 20 years he had 6 weed convictions!”
The age-old urban legend that cannabis is a gateway drug has been proven wrong. Although the volunteers have seen many repeat offenders, they are all marijuana charges.
“The first person I helped at our Show Low clinic had eight petitions to file because the police arrested him eight times, all for very minor possession charges without intent to sell. He ultimately spent three years in jail for possessing less than seven grams. In my experience, cannabis consumers in rural counties dealt with some of the most appalling consequences of prohibition because of the small size of their community and outdated social values based on prohibitionist propaganda.” Jon Udall communications director for Arizona NORML.
Sadly, not all cannabis charges can be removed from records. Cannabis DUI’s are still a chargeable crime and likewise cannot be expunged. However, if you are unsure if your case (s) the best thing to do is come find out. The entire expungement process itself only takes about 15 minutes. It’s 100% free.
Arizona NORML is booked clinics full of, if not one, than multiple clinics. Why do attorneys book their weekends to volunteer for FREE?
“I volunteer because this is life-changing work. This is the start of a new page in the history of Arizona, and it’s important to get cannabis expungement right. This is only the first step in repairing the harm that the war on drugs has caused. Leaving a clinic after a day of hard work feels like you have not only made a difference, but that you have contributed to our state changing trajectory after nearly a century of destructive marijuana policies.”
“I enjoy volunteering for clinics because it feels like you are making a difference in lives, and I’m always touched by the stories I hear. Sometimes it’s a young adult who has had many other issues with the law due to their first marijuana conviction. Maybe they were on probation for marijuana and they violated it with something small, but it changed the first marijuana conviction to a designated felony. Other people have had this one marijuana charge stop them from getting jobs or even apartments. It feels good to be a part of something that is a progressive change, and it’s nice to be a part of it where I can see the impact on people. Generally, people are incredibly grateful. They are hopeful for a new start. Maybe now they can get that apartment! Expungement gives many people a chance to escape a stigma or stereotype that haunted them for a few years or all their life. Those people deserve that sense of freedom that expungement provides.”
“My main motivation is gratitude from the people we help. I am a utilitarian, which means I believe we have a duty to help people if the benefits they receive outweigh the costs of us helping them. Because taking six hours out of my weekend is overwhelmingly outweighed by the benefits our attendees receive—like having increased opportunities for jobs and access to housing—I believe I have a moral duty to contribute that time. Additionally, as an attorney who was arrested for possession during college and had my record expunged, I feel a duty to help other people like me who faced the consequences of our government’s unconscionable war on cannabis.”
DONT FORGET THE MONTHLY ARIZONA NORML MEETING IS
THE FIRST TUESDAY OF EVERY MONTH!!!!
at ERRL CUP HEADQUARTERS
929 E. Indian School Rd in Phoenix AZ
For more information about everything Arizona NORML is doing