June 16, 2022
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AMA calls for expungement of now-legal cannabis crimes

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At its House of Delegates meeting, the AMA adopted a policy that calls on states to expunge the criminal records of people who were incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses that were later decriminalized or legalized.

Although the AMA opposes the legalization of cannabis, it supports “mitigating the collateral consequences” of cannabis-related crimes in states where it is now legal, according to an AMA press release.

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The new policy seeks to “introduce equity and fairness into the fast-changing effort to legalize cannabis,” which is legal for medical use in 37 states, the release said. It additionally asks for an end to parole, probation and any other court-related supervision for these specific offenses.

According to AMA Trustee Scott Ferguson, MD, those who were arrested or convicted for cannabis-related crimes that were later legalized continue to “carry the baggage associated with a criminal record.”

“This affects young people aspiring to careers in medicine as well as many others who are denied housing, education, loans and job opportunities. It simply isn’t fair to ruin a life based on actions that result in convictions but are subsequently legalized or decriminalized,” he said in the release.

The AMA said that it also plans to discuss expungement with “relevant medical education and licensing authorities to determine the impact of disclosure of a cannabis-related offense on a medical school, residency or licensing application.”

The organization warned that expungement of a record might not address some consequences of an arrest, like qualifying for public health benefits.

“Expungement is no panacea. It can be a lengthy and expensive process,” Ferguson said in the release. “Automatic expungement would relieve people of having to figure out and pay for the bureaucratic steps necessary for sealing a criminal record.”

Despite similar usage rates, Black people are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested than white people, so these “expungement efforts aim to mitigate past harms of the legal system while also supporting economic and social opportunity for people with a record,” the AMA said, noting that “more than 20 states have passed laws to expunge or seal records.”