Arizona Bill Would Expunge Marijuana Possession Charges

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PHOENIX, Ariz. (Jan. 16, 2020) – A bill filed in the Arizona House would automatically expunge criminal records relating to marijuana charges and convictions. Passage of the bill would allow people to clear their records and take another small step toward nullifying federal marijuana prohibition in effect.

A coalition of three Democrats filed House Bill 2178 (HB2178) on Jan. 10. The legislation would require state courts to expunge the record of a person’s arrest, conviction and sentence for possession of marijuana. Under the law, a person whose record is expunged would be treated in all respects as if that person was never arrested, convicted or sentenced.

In effect, people in Arizona could still be criminally prosecuted for marijuana possession under state law and would suffer any resulting criminal penalties if convicted, but the conviction would not remain on their record. This would eliminate the life-long struggle people with criminal charges on their record face when applying for jobs, housing and other things.

HB2178 creates an expungement process for any person who’s charges aren’t automatically expunged.

The new law will not only help some people with prior marijuana arrests and convictions on their records get a new start, but it will also further undermine federal marijuana prohibition. As marijuana becomes more accepted and more states simply ignore the feds, the federal government is less able to enforce its unconstitutional laws. Marijuana use is spreading across the U.S. despite continued federal prohibition.


Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

Arizona legalized marijuana for medical use in 2011. This removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Passage of HB2178 would further undermine prohibition make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in Arizona.


Arizona joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.

Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.

With 33 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.

“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.


HB2178 will be officially introduced and referred to a committee when the legislature convenes on Jan. 13. It will have to pass committee by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.



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