Marijuana Legalization and Expungement in Early 2021

Ohio State Legal Studies Research Paper No. 613

Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, May 2021

Collateral Consequences Resource Center

8 Pages Posted: 5 May 2021 Last revised: 3 Mar 2022

Date Written: May 5, 2021


Early 2021 was an unprecedented period for policymaking at the intersection of marijuana legalization and criminal record reform. Between February and April, four states enacted legislation legalizing recreational marijuana. In conjunction with legalization, these states (New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia) also enacted innovative criminal policy reforms—including the automatic expungement of an exceptionally broad array of past marijuana convictions—along with a variety of social equity provisions.

These new laws mitigate past harms of the legal system while also supporting economic and social opportunity for people with a record in several ways. First, in all four states, expansive automatic expungement provisions will remove the burden of a criminal record from many individuals, while raising the bar on standards for marijuana record relief nationwide. These states also incorporated more general criminal record reforms into legalization, benefiting people with different types of criminal records in their efforts to reintegrate into society. Finally, these four states specifically addressed racial disparities in marijuana criminalization by directing tax revenue and business opportunities for legal marijuana to individuals and communities disproportionately affected by criminal law enforcement. This report and an accompanying infographic summarize the groundbreaking criminal reforms enacted this year as part of marijuana legalization and situate them in the national context.

Keywords: Marijuana legalization, marijuana reform, record sealing, record expungement, collateral consequences, criminal record, social equity

Suggested Citation

Schlussel, David, Marijuana Legalization and Expungement in Early 2021 (May 5, 2021). Ohio State Legal Studies Research Paper No. 613, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, May 2021, Collateral Consequences Resource Center, Available at SSRN: or

David Schlussel (Contact Author)

Berkeley Law Alumni ( email )

Berkeley, CA
United States

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