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Despite Roadblocks, Marijuana Expungements Possibly Moving Forward In Cincinnati

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Nearly 6,000 people in Cincinnati could have their criminal records cleared of minor marijuana offenses if the city manager and solicitor have their way. They're recommending the city move forward with plans to expunge, or seal, misdemeanor convictions of 100 grams or less of marijuana.

A memo from City Solicitor Andrew Garth says the Hamilton County Clerk's Office has identified 7,517 cases among 5,893 individuals that might be eligible for expungement. There's a possibility expunging all of those records in a bulk application process could mean some ineligible cases slip through the cracks.

The memo lays out three possibilities:

  1. Someone may have disqualifying convictions outside of Hamilton County. 
  2. There may be a current open case against a defendant, which may not appear in searches due to "technical limitations" of software used by the clerk's office.
  3. People may still owe fines or costs, which is difficult to track because some people choose to complete community service as opposed to paying fees.

The memo says doing background checks on each case, even if it only took 10 minutes, would take nearly 1,000 hours of work.

"Doing these more extensive background checks would almost certainly identify some individuals who were not eligible, although we believe that number would be quite small," the memo states.

The city solicitor says those cases could be overlooked because the fines are likely small, the minor misdemeanor charges will likely have no impact on any future charging decisions by courts, and the expungement could be reversed if it's accidentally sealed and becomes relevant in another case later.

The city solicitor also wants to take time to work with local courts to determine if it's possible to submit a large number of expungement requests rather than analyzing every case individually.

"While we will need to reach out to the courts for additional guidance, it is our hope that the City will be able to file some form of bulk application with the courts to quickly resolve the cases we have identified as likely eligible," the memo says.

City officials were supposed to begin the process of analyzing possible expungement cases in Nov. 2019. However, identifying the eligible cases -- non-violent convictions for having about three ounces or less of marijuana -- didn't begin until mid-March.

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething addressed marijuana expungement efforts in a memo to Mayor John Cranley and City Council Members. She said she is directing the Law Department to "resolve" some of the roadblocks in favor of enacting quick, large scale expungements. 

Possession of 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor, but can still cause issues for people seeking employment, housing, and education assistance. Not all crimes are eligible for expungement, though. Crimes involving children, sex crimes and first and second degree felonies are never eligible for expungement. The support behind expungement of smaller crimes is intended to give people the chance to move on from their criminal convictions. 

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.