The constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana requires Missouri courts to expunge all marijuana-related misdemeanor charges by June 8 and felonies by Dec. 8.
After three months of looking through old marijuana charges, Boone County Circuit Court Clerk Christy Blakemore — along with clerks and judges around the state — has come to a realization.
There’s no quick way to wipe those records clean.
And, it’s going to take a lot more money for overtime to go through the mountain of expungements in Boone County by summertime.
A huge selling point for those who voted for marijuana legalization, which appeared on the ballot in November as Amendment 3, was the automatic expungement provision — meaning people who have already served their sentences for past charges don’t have to petition the court and go through a hearing to expunge those charges from their records.
The courts must locate their records and make it as if their past marijuana charges never existed.
State court authorities have asked legislators to approve $2.5 million in a supplemental budget for circuit clerks to be able to pay their employees overtime hours.
“It’s a mammoth task,” said St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer. “We know it’s an issue in every county and every circuit. And so we’re just trying to slowly figure out what’s the fairest and the most equitable method to proceed.”
Statewide, about 10,000 expungements have been granted – meaning charges not people — as of March 6.
Greene County Circuit Clerk Bryan Feemster described the task of digging through decades of files to find every expungeable marijuana charge as a “brand new business startup.”
When the court budget committee surveyed the circuit courts in December to estimate the number of expungements and overtime needed, Feemster said he thought they could work through a case in about 15 minutes.
He laughs at that now.
“It’s nowhere close to that,” he said.
The first expungement they did in Greene County was for a 1971 case with only one charge — which they thought would be easy.
“It took us about eight hours to go out in the archives and run the paperwork down. When we were done with the entire process, including the expungement of it, it was about 12 hours for one individual,” he said.”
A clerk has to physically open the electronic file on Casenet or the written file in archives and go through to make sure the charge is for marijuana, and under three pounds.
Then it goes to the judge’s desk. If the judge approves it, it goes back to the clerk where they have to redact the charge from every page of the file.
The redacting has been the biggest eye opener, Feemster and Blakemore agreed.
It takes one of Blakemore’s more “seasoned” clerks a little over an hour to redact all mentions of the marijuana in a case that hasn’t been pending long.
But in cases where the marijuana charge is among multiple counts and that spanned over years, clerks have to redact every mention of marijuana on years of docket entries, motions and filings.
It takes much longer than an hour, she said.
While it’s called “automatic expungement,” it’s actually pretty far from automatic, Ohmer said.