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Cleveland moves ahead with a new plan for expunging low-level marijuana cases

Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland officials arriving at the Justice Center with boxes of paperwork meant to start the process of sealing thousands of marijuana convictions on April 6, 2022. That plan was not allowed by state law, according to Cleveland Municipal Court, but city officials have come up with a new plan.

The city of Cleveland is moving ahead with a new strategy for removing low-level marijuana cases from people’s records. The city’s law department has begun filing motions in municipal court to vacate convictions or dismiss charges in thousands of cases.

According to a spokesman for Mayor Justin Bibb, the Cleveland law department plans this week to file motions in more than 4,000 cases dating back to 2017.

This is the city’s second attempt at removing these cases from Clevelanders’ criminal records. In April, the city requested to have those cases expunged.

Mayor Justin Bibb, Council President Blaine Griffin and other high-ranking officials from the city brought a dolly stacked with boxes to the clerk’s office at the Justice Center on April 6.

“We wanted to show the residents of the city of Cleveland that we are truly serious about holistic criminal justice reform in this city and also make sure that we give them that second chance that they deserve,” Bibb told media outside the Justice Center.

But state law requires each individual to make the request themselves.

Earlier this year, officials in Cincinnati ran into the same roadblock in state law when they tried to have similar cases expunged.

Cleveland’s new plan has the city prosecutor filing the motions as one of the parties in each of the cases. If that strategy works, the city won’t have to alert the thousands of residents who are eligible.

Cleveland Municipal Court has also added a new form to its website for people who have been arrested of any crime but have not been convicted. They can ask to have that arrest sealed from public view.

According to the court, five people applied on Monday.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media who focuses on criminal justice.