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Marijuana Legalization Includes Youth Protections Against Law Enforcement Abuses and Prosecution



A set of bills signed into law on February 22, 2021  legalized possession and use of marijuana for those 21 and older, stopped arrests for those legally possessing up to six ounces, and set civil penalties for those under 21 who possess or use the drug.

As a result of the new laws, those under 21 who are found to possess or use marijuana are subject to limited penalties. Those penalties allow law enforcement officers to:

  • issue written warnings,
  • notify the parents of those under 18, and
  • provide community and substance abuse resources.

Any records of written warning will be confidential and destroyed or deleted when the individual turns 21.

Police may not initiate a stop without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, initiate a search of an individual unable to give consent due to age, or detain a person for longer than required to issue a warning or write-up. Officers who violate these protections face criminal penalties depending on the nature of the deprivation of individual civil rights.

Law enforcement officers engaged with youth for the purposes of issuing written warnings are required to record interactions using body-worn cameras. Officers will also receive training on interactions with underage users, including recognition of and methods to “address and avoid racial disparities and implicit bias” and interacting with vulnerable juvenile populations.

The new law stops arrests going forward, but those who have been subject to recent charges—which did not stop while the bills were considered by the legislature and prior to passage—do have some recourse. Prior provisions  downgraded past marijuana offenses for purposes of expungement, and provided for expedited expungement and sealing of marijuana- related offenses soon after conviction.

In addition, the attorney general issued a directive to dismiss certain pending marijuana-related charges in cases where the juvenile or adult conduct occurred on or before February 22, 2021. The court will vacate any guilty verdict, plea, placement in a diversionary program, or other entry of guilt on matters where the conduct occurred prior to February 22, 2021. Any conviction, remaining sentence, ongoing supervision, or unpaid court-ordered fines of anyone who has been serving a sentence as of February 22, 2021 as a result of conviction or adjudication for such charges will also be vacated by the court. All such offenses would not be automatically expunged but would be subject to expedited expungement pursuant to recent expungement reform (except motor-vehicle related cases, which are not expungeable).​​