It's a big day for criminal justice reform in Arizona. Starting today, those who have minor pot possession or drug paraphernalia charges can apply to have those charges dismissed, or 'expunged' from their records.
Voters approved this change when passing Prop 207 that legalized marijuana for adult recreational use in Arizona.
According to the voter-approved Proposition, those convicted of possessing, consuming, or transporting two and a half ounces or less of marijuana, of which not more than 12.5 grams is in the form of a marijuana concentrate can be eligible to expunge their convictions.
Those possessing, transporting, cultivating, or processing up to six marijuana plants at their primary residence for personal use, and those possessing, using, or transporting paraphernalia linked to cultivation, manufacture, processing, or consumption of marijuana can also apply for expungement.
Maricopa County officials said they "strongly believe that the will of the voters should be implemented as quickly as possible."
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office will assist people who have been convicted/adjudicated of a crime listed above by filing a stipulated motion to expunge their conviction/adjudication. Therefore, a process has been created for defendants, adjudicated juveniles, or their legal representatives, to ask this office to file a motion with the court to expunge this criminal conviction or adjudication.
Jason Kalish, Division chief of the county attorney's trial services division encouraged those who were eligible to fill out the form.
"I know in our office we're focusing more on treatment for drug offenses, and it allows us to spend more time on the more serious offenders," said Kalish.
"We don't want people to have to pay money, you know, to hire a lawyer to file something that should be free," he added.
Julie Gunnigle who is the political director for the Arizona chapter of NORML, a group dedicated to reforming marijuana laws called July 12, 2021 a historic day for Arizona.
"Today is a day that will go down in Arizona history because Arizona does not have expungements or didn't, until this morning at 12:01 a.m.
"An expungement is a true clearing of someone's criminal history and record, and Arizona continues to be one of the most incarcerated states in the nation," added Gunnigle.
Getting the drug charges off their records meant a second chance for Corey Harris and Carlos Diaz.
Harris was only 16 when he was charged with drug possession. That was 12 years ago. Harris said prosecutors charged him as an adult for the crime. Since then, he's had to wear the label of 'criminal' and 'felon'.
"Are you actually a criminal? You know, I don't feel like a bad person. You typically correspond criminal with a bad person," said Harris.
Diaz was charged with drug possession ten years ago, in 2011.
He said he was pulled over for a broken headlight. After passing two field sobriety tests, police asked to search his car. There they found a 'roach' or the butt of a marijuana cigarette. Diaz said that 'roach' cost him his whole life, up to this point.
He had to pay fines, was placed on probation, and he lost out on many opportunities.
"It's really hindered me on getting a couple of good jobs in the past," said Diaz.
Harris added the charges from his past had made it difficult for him to find housing as well.
Now the expungement process through Prop 207 is giving both men a second chance, and it's also giving them hope.
Gunnigle was critical of how difficult the county attorneys' offices throughout Arizona were making the expungement process. She said the forms they wanted people to fill out required too much personal information.
NORML Arizona will be launching their own expungement application on their website Home | Arizona NORML. If the process took more than 30 days, Gunnigle said Prop 207 allowed for expungements to be automatic without county attorney approval.
"What Proposition 207 said, and I think this was really smart on behalf of the voters, is f the prosecutor's office fails to respond to a petition within 30 days or fails to object, it gets granted," said Gunnigle.
Kalish said so far Maricopa county had received more than 125 requests for expungement, and they had granted almost 91% of those requests. Those that were not granted were more complicated cases with multiple charges involved.
"They just need a closer look," explained Kalish.