LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For many Kentuckians being charged with possession of marijuana can affect their life in a number of ways. Now that the state has legalized medical cannabis, it’s reignited calls by advocates to automatically wipe some charges from people’s criminal records.

What You Need To Know

  • A report found over 300,000 Kentuckians have been charged with marijuana-related crimes over the last 20 years

  • Earlier this year, state lawmakers moved to legalize medical marijuana

  • Advocates are calling on the state to automatically expunge marijuana-related charges

  • A bill to do this died in the statehouse earlier this year

“We would like to see automatic expungement for all past cannabis-related offenses,” Matthew Bratcher, executive director of Kentucky NORML said.

Bratcher’s organization is an advocacy group for reforming marijuana laws. His position is echoed by other groups like the ACLU of Kentucky.

Beginning in 2025, Kentuckians will be able to legally use marijuana to treat certain medical conditions.

The governor signed that legislation earlier this year. At the time of the bill’s passing, more than 500 people sat in jail because of cannabis, according to a new report from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.  

The report also found since 2002, over 300,000 people have been charged for cannabis. More than half of them were later convicted.

Bratcher and other advocates say it’s time for the state to overhaul its expungement process.

Matthew Bratcher is the executive director of Kentucky NORMAL, an advocacy group for reforming marijuana laws (Spectrum News 1/Mason Brighton)

“We know that it is a very clunky process to get expungements. We’ve known a couple of people that have applied for it and they never heard back from anything,” Bratcher said.

Marijuana-related crimes also disproportionally affect black Kentuckians. That report found they were nearly ten times more likely to be arrested for possession.

The impact of these crimes also goes beyond just charges.

“Maybe you didn’t get convicted, but just the effect of the arrest and getting in the paper, it ruined your reputation and your town,” Bratcher explained. “So then you did get fired and then you’ve got a lot of catch up to do, and it can really affect people in a myriad number of ways.”

Bratcher adds this report solidifies what’s been discussed for years and solidifies the need for statewide change.

“I think Kentucky needs to start readdressing a lot of these issues and start automatic expungements for cannabis-related convictions, and I think our judges and prosecutors need to start dismissing these charges,” Bratcher said.

To happen, this would need the support of the state legislature. Earlier this year, lawmakers did introduce a bill that would have created an automatic felony expungement process. While it was sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, it was never brought up for a vote.