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Cass County man becomes 1st person jailed in Missouri to have marijuana-related conviction expunged

Judge orders Adam Mace to be freed under new state law passed by voters
Adam Mace marijuana expungement
Posted at 11:02 AM, Jan 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-19 19:55:22-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Adam Mace became the first person imprisoned in Missouri to have a marijuana-related conviction expunged under Amendment 3, a constitutional amendment voters passed in November.

A Cass County judge ruled in Mace's favor Thursday, which means he will be a free man in a matter of days.

Mace's public defender, Justin Ortiz, and a group of supporters broke the news to Mace over a phone call after the ruling.

"The judge granted it," Ortiz told Mace.

"Yes?" Mace said after a short pause.

"Yes," Ortiz said.

"We're good?" Mace asked.

"We're good," Ortiz confirmed. "I'm waiting on the order."

Adam erupted in more yes's and thank you's, clearly ecstatic over the phone.

This is what Amendment 3 could do for more people like Mace, who have nonviolent cannabis possession convictions.

Mace was 18 years old when he was arrested for having more than 35 grams, which is a little over an ounce of weed. He's about three years into a five-year sentence.

"It's been a long road," Ortiz said. "A lot of doors have closed along the way and we did not ever foresee this as an opportunity for him. It's just a great feeling to be able to work for a client and get him the best possible result as well as expressing the voice of the people."

Mace is the first person in Cass County and one of the first in the state to petition for expungement under the amendment. He's the first incarcerated person to win in the state.

The Cass County prosecutors and sheriff's offices, who originally prosecuted Mace, did not object to his release.

"I'm so happy. I'm relieved. A lot of stress," Mace said. "I was up all night. Only thing on my mind. It's a great victory today for everybody, everybody in the cannabis community."

Mace is in Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City and could not be in court on Thursday to hear the ruling for himself. Advocates from the Canna Convict Project and his friend were there for him.

"I think the stigma has taken a long time to change and it's taken a lot of people losing their freedoms, losing their lives, losing their homes fighting for their defense," Christina Frommer with Canna Convict Project said. "This has been an ongoing conversation for much longer than medical has been here, and I'm very happy to see that changing. And it's slow and it's painstaking and it's expensive. So I hope this really expedites the process for everybody and we can move forward."

The court will now send the order to any facility with records on Mace's cannabis case so they can be destroyed.

It'll take another day or two for the prison system to process Mace for release so he could get out on Monday or Tuesday. Ortiz hopes it happens sooner.

And then what?

"He is taking a welding program in prison, so he's going to be a certified welder. I know the first thing he wants to do is get a job as a welder as soon as he gets out," Mace's friend, Angela Bowers, said.

Bowers said she and Mace grew up together and they reconnected about a year ago. Mace's parents have both passed away and he has two living siblings. Bowers said he'll need all the support he can get.

For now, Mace wants to show gratitude for those who helped him.

"Thank you for the support," Mace said. "Wish I could be there."

Mace said he wants to go to a gas station and go to Dave and Busters. He said he's also never held an iPhone, which he's looking forward to.

Mace's case was complicated. In 2010, he was convicted of first-degree involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Mace was 19 when he crashed into another car on Missouri 291 near Harrisonville, killing 44-year-old Denise Lero Greene. He was driving while intoxicated.

The manslaughter conviction meant he violated his probation in the cannabis-possession case and would have to serve five years in jail.

After finishing 85% of the manslaughter sentence, as stipulated by the correctional system, Mace started serving his cannabis conviction sentence, even though the cannabis case occurred first.

Ortiz previously believed the manslaughter charge would not impact the judge's decision.

"It shouldn't, because these are two separate cases," Ortiz said in a Jan. 10 interview. "The marijuana amendment is pretty clear on what needs to happen and it doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room, so he should be released as well as have his (marijuana-related) case expunged."

When the KSHB 41 I-Team spoke to Mace last week, he said he was ready to move forward positively outside of prison, hopeful to catch up on all he's missed.

"Oh man, it's astronomical," Mace said. "I could start crying right now thinking about it, to be honest. I think I'm ready — I can tell you that."

Mace's ruling will set the path for expungements throughout the state.

"It's certainly a benchmark," Ortiz said, "Because we had a number of factors in this case and less complex cases should be able to go through the court system in a swifter and more efficient manner."

RELATED | Marijuana is legal in Missouri — Now what?

Possession of a limited amount of recreational cannabis is now legal in Missouri, though its retail sale isn’t allowed quite yet, after voters passed a constitutional amendment to legalize weed.

Under the new law, many people with a cannabis-possession conviction can petition to have a judge expunge their conviction, which could trigger an early release from a jail sentence or termination of probation and other court-ordered services.

Several cities — including Kansas City, Missouri — are putting sales-tax issues on the April ballot, asking voters to approve new taxes on marijuana purchases.

Missouri voters passed medical marijuana in 2018 through a similar constitutional-amendment process.

KSHB 41 News Digital In-Depth Reporter Tod Palmer contributed to this report.