CLEVELAND — Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb continues to advocate for marijuana record expungement.
One of Bibb's goals since taking office has been to help residents with low minor marijuana convictions.
"I talked to so many residents who couldn't get a job, who couldn't get access to a student loan, who couldn't get access to qualify for housing because they had collateral sanctions on their record, many of which stem from low-level marijuana convictions," Bibb said.
Initially, Bibb's efforts to expunge misdemeanor marijuana charges hit a legal speed bump here in Ohio.
“We knew we were going to face some uphill battles in the legal system,” he said.
The Bibb administration said more than 800 people have received expungements thanks to coordination between their office and the Biden administration. The mayor brought 4000 cases to the courts in April 2022, seeking to seal those records.
Bibb also advocated for Senate Bill 288, which was signed into law in January. The bill helps expand the city of Cleveland's ability to introduce expungements.
“We try to fight on behalf of our residents,” Bibb said.
That's a fight that activist Morgan Fox knows all too well.
“During college, I got a firsthand look at the justice system after being arrested for simple possession," said Fox, the program director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Fox said he has been fighting for years to reform marijuana policies.
“I would see the people that were there that had the exact same charges me with the exact same legal history as me, but who did not look like me getting significantly larger sentences, whether it be larger fines, longer probation or in some cases even jail time, just for very simple possession of cannabis,” said Fox.
With the passage of Senate Bill 288, Bibb said the city can now take further action. The administration is working to notify all the people whose records the city is seeking to expunge. The city will then file motions on behalf of those people and use a $10,000 grant to help pay for filing fees related to expungement and the sealing of records. Cleveland is working with other organizations to hold expungement clinics where people can file and close their cases, without going to court.
“So now cities and counties now have legal standing to expunge those minor marijuana misdemeanors all across the state of Ohio,” Bibb said.
It's a win not only for the city but also for individuals just like Fox.
“I think Mayor Bibb has ever shown fantastic leadership on this issue," he said. "And, you know, from a national perspective, I wish there were a lot more people like him that were leading the way on starting these programs that directly affect the communities that they have been elected to lead."