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Cincinnati's marijuana expungements hit a legal roadblock, but officials are finding ways to inch forward

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Mass marijuana expungements in Cincinnati are not happening any time soon because of a state law that prohibits the solicitor's office from acting as legal counsel for people seeking expungement. This throws a wrench into the city's plans to expunge the convictions of people who were charged with a nonviolent misdemeanor for having less than 100 grams of marijuana.

A memo from City Solicitor Andrew Garth says the Law Department has identified 7,500 cases involving about 5,900 people who may be eligible for expungement. Initially, the city planned to file four bulk expungements for people based on the details of the convictions and criminal history.

Assistant City Solicitor Scott Heenan wrote to the Hamilton County Municipal Court judges in November that court case Pepper Pike v. Doe "recognized that 'courts have inherent authority to expunge and seal criminal records in ‘unusual and exceptional circumstances’ and noted that the basis for the authority is the constitutional right to privacy."

He said the city's efforts to expunge a large number of records falls into the category of "unusual and exceptional."

But local judges didn't agree.

An email from Assistant Court Administrator Andrew Gillen says, "After a thorough review, the Hamilton County Municipal Court judges do not find the proposed process to be feasible. We reviewed the case law you presented, and are not convinced the city of Cincinnati has standing to file for sealing of these convictions."

But city officials aren't giving up hope. They're working on two efforts to make expungement happen — one long-term and the other more immediate.

Other Options

The city will soon be launching a public search function online that allows people to see if their marijuana case has been flagged as eligible for expungement.

There will also be information about how to find case numbers, how to apply to have a conviction expunged, and organizations that can help represent an expungement case in court. It's unclear when the search function will launch.

However, people can independently check whether their case is eligible for expungement by emailing their case number to expungementinfo@cincinnati-oh.gov. A member of the Law Department will clarify whether a misdemeanor marijuana case is eligible for expungement.

The city is also trying to make changes on a statewide level.

According to the memo from Garth, the city's lobbyists plan to work with the state legislative delegation to make changes that would allow city prosecutors to expunge a bulk of eligible cases.

"We believe that a consensus can be reached that these out-dated and archaic convictions should no longer be on people’s records," the memo says.