HARRISONVILLE, Mo. — A Cass County courtroom could be one of the first places in the state to let someone out of prison by expunging a previous marijuana conviction.
Previous convictions for people who have already finished sentences or have past felony and misdemeanor charges are automatically deleted over the course of the year, according to the language in the Amendment Missouri voters passed in 2022.
But people who are in prison, on parole, or on probation have to file a petition to have the court expunge their case, which introduces procedures that might not be explicitly defined.
“Even though it’s a very long constitutional amendment, it doesn’t cover everything,” said Lawyer Justin Ortiz. “So, timelines, notice periods, things that you would normally find in normal statutes or laws aren’t present here.”
Ortiz is representing Adam Mace, who is roughly three years into a five-year sentence related to a marijuana possession charge from the mid-2000s.
Mace’s case is more complicated than most.
He went to prison 14 years ago after being responsible for a deadly DUI. He served 11 years for that conviction, meaning that the only belief that’s keeping him behind bars right now is for marijuana possession.
It’s left him to watch Missouri’s legislature introduce bills to legalize medical and then recreational marijuana with his freedom potentially hanging in the balance.
“It’s a roller coaster ride, man,” Mace said on a phone call from Algoa Correctional Center.
He realizes the irony that he’s still in prison for marijuana. At the same time, adults in Missouri will buy all different forms of it while local governments get tax revenue from it in February.
“It’s frustrating to know that the state is generating revenue while having people incarcerated for the same exact thing,” Mace said.
The upside, says Ortiz, is that Mace has a compelling case.
“Adam, I believe, qualifies under multiple areas of the expungement portion of the amendment,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz says Mace’s possession charge was prosecuted under stricter guidelines because it happened in the mid-2000s. Since then, laws around cannabis have been relaxed.
Still, though, since this case is one of the first to petition for expungement, the paperwork, timelines, and expectations are all being managed as the case plays out.
“The courts, as well as everybody else, are trying to figure out the best way to do it,” Ortiz said.
Mace’s court hearing was supposed to be on January 12, but it’s been moved back by a week because of a scheduling conflict at the court.