Cannabis Convictions and Industry Employment

The cannabis industry is at an odd place in history. On the one hand, its evolving legal status means more middle-class Americans can enter into – and slingshot themselves to the top of – the ever-profitable cannabis industry. On the other hand, its evolution from the black market means that those with felony convictions are blocked from entering the very industry they had a part in creating.

Specifically, those with felony convictions cannot own, manage, or sometimes even work in any direct cannabis job. The theory behind this law is to minimize black marijuana activities. However, many feel that cannabis felony conviction laws block valuable talent and maintain inequality in the cannabis space.

Finding cannabis industry employment following a felony conviction presents different challenges in every state. Though most states with a legal cannabis market forbid people with recent felony convictions from owning and operating cannabis businesses, others block anyone with a felony from entering the industry – period.

Though most states make exceptions for minor infractions like possession and use, those convicted of more serious offenses like distribution or cultivation remain blocked from entering the legal marijuana industry.

Expunging Cannabis Convictions 

Looking at progressive views on non-violent marijuana crimes pre-dating legalization, many places are actively expunging marijuana convictions. Illinois is among the most progressive states to address the issue by expunging nearly 800,000 marijuana convictions in 2020. Per Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, residents with felony convictions involving less than 30 grams will gain automatic clemency. Furthermore, those with convictions involving between 30 and 500 grams can petition to have their charges lifted.

felony cannabis conviction represented by handcuffsThe bill also includes programs designed to help people with convictions to gain business licenses. The “Social Equity Program” has allocated $12 million to spend on cannabis business startups cannabis industry job training.

Many other states, including New York and significant parts of California, are also developing plants to expunge felony cannabis convictions. However, these processes are not nearly as streamlined as seen in Illinois. For example, though more than 200,000 criminal convictions will be sealed in New York, individuals must petition to have them destroyed. (To be clear, a “sealed” conviction is one that exists but is inaccessible to landlords and private employers. Conversely, an expunged record is one that no longer exists.)

Final Thoughts

Legalizing cannabis does not stop at dispensary door openings. Truly, one of the most important parts of cannabis legalization is the transition out of a failed drug war. A great way to start this important process is by expunging cannabis convictions, and consequently, give everyone equal access to cannabis industry success.

Are you ready to work in the cannabis industry? We’d love to discuss some current M&F Talent positions.