The RI Cannabis Act signed into law on May 25, 2022, legalized recreational use and provided for automatic expungement of eligible criminal and civil records by no later than July 1, 2024. That process is the responsibility of the state court administrators and is on track to meet the statutory deadline.
A person whose records are expunged has a clean record, as if the offense never happened, subject to certain limited exceptions. The most important benefit of expungement is that, unless specifically provided otherwise by law (such as applying for a law enforcement or national security job, bar membership, or teaching certificate), the person whose records are expunged can decline to disclose the offense when applying for jobs, credit, housing, etc.
“Usually a person would have to file a request to have a record expunged. The Act modifies that process and requires the courts to automatically expunge any eligible case(s) and charge(s). The automatic expungement process is free,” a spokesperson for the RI state courts said in a press release in June 2023.
The process is being conducted in two phases, Phase I addressing case records with only a simple possession charge and Phase II addressing case records with a possession charge in combination with some other charge. The court spokesperson told Motif, “Phase I of single count expungement could be done through [a] computer program. Phase II needs to be manually done since staff are removing one count from cases with potentially many other charges.”
Automatic expungement does not apply to “other marijuana convictions including, but not limited to, the selling, delivering, or manufacturing of marijuana,” the press release said.
Before cannabis possession was legalized in 2022, it was decriminalized in 2013 and cases after that were civil violations. Persons who were minors at the time of the offense are not eligible for automatic expungement. Minors are defined for this purpose as a person younger than 18 for criminal offenses and younger than 21 for civil offenses.
During the completed Phase I, the court spokesperson told Motif, 3,015 criminal felony cases were expunged by the Superior Court, 10,650 criminal misdemeanor cases were expunged by the District Court, and 9,952 civil violations were expunged by the Traffic Tribunal, a combined total of 23,617 expungements.
As of October 25, the court spokesperson said, in Phase II the Superior Court has 3,259 remaining of 6,672 total cases and the District Court has 1,697 remaining of 5,825 total cases, having expunged a combined 7,541.
The June press release explained, “Individuals can search the RI Judiciary Public Portal – publicportal. courts.ri.gov/PublicPortal – to check the courts’ records to determine if a case(s) or charge(s) has been expunged. Once a case(s) or charge(s) is expunged, the information will no longer appear on the Public Portal. If an individual needs a marijuana possession case(s) or charge(s) expunged sooner than the dates listed above, the individual can request an expedited expungement by submitting a Notice for Expedited Marijuana Possession Expungement to the court that heard the case.”