American lives have been uprooted because of simple misdemeanor marijuana offenses—punishments for an activity that is now legal for various purposes in 38 states. But new legislation would provide the needed mechanism to help Americans clear low-level marijuana offenses at the federal level.
Congressmen Troy A. Carter, Sr. (D-LA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced The Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act—bipartisan legislation that would create an expungement pathway for low-level violations of federal marijuana offenses.
It would provide “an expedited, orderly process that clears the deck of non-felony marijuana offenses” in the federal system, according to a July 29 press release.
Weldon Angelos, president of The Weldon Project, testified on behalf of decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level, and defended Americans suffering from the burden of past offenses on July 26 at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. His whole testimony can be read here. He also supported and helped to introduce the Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act.
Angelos explained how federal misdemeanor charges can have the same end result as a felony when it comes to the way records impact individuals.
“One thing about the federal system is that there’s absolutely no way to expunge a record, so basically a misdemeanor in the federal system functions like a felony because it stays on your record forever—unlike most of the 50 states which have some kind of mechanism to expunge a low-level possession cannabis offenes,” Angelos tells High Times. “The federal system has nothing. So it stays on your record for life.”
Other similar bills have been introduced, but Angelos explained how the bills could potentially work together. Last December, Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14), co-chair of the House Cannabis Caucus, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) introduced the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act. This bipartisan bill aims to help states with expunging cannabis offenses by reducing the financial and administrative burden of such efforts through federal grants.
“Me and Professor [Erik] Luna came up with the idea because Congress right now can’t pass something comprehensive,” Angelos says. “So we tried to find something that Republicans would be okay with, and that would still be some kind of progress, and something that also the Democrats could couple with—something like the HOPE Act or the SAFE Banking Act. It’s so that we can get something done this year, and that’s really the idea.”
“I want to thank the cosponsors for introducing this important legislation, which offers an approach to marijuana expungement that is coherent, efficient, and just—all without threatening public safety,” said Professor Erik Luna, who founded the Academy for Justice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.
Angelos explained that federal misdemeanor offenses impact him personally.
“I know three people—personally—who have been charged with federal marijuana misdemeanor charges. And this is from 2003 or so, and it still shows up when they do background checks.”
“Today it still impacts them.”
Congressmen Carter and Davis applauded the bill as co-sponsors. “I’m proud to introduce The Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act, bipartisan legislation that will restore justice to millions of Americans who have suffered inordinate collateral consequences associated with marijuana-related misdemeanors,” said Congressman Carter. “These misdemeanors—even without a conviction—can result in restrictions to peoples’ ability to access educational aid, housing assistance, occupational licensing and even foster parenting. Delivering justice for our citizens who have been impacted by marijuana-related misdemeanors is a key component of comprehensive cannabis reform.”
“Given the number of states, like Illinois, where marijuana has long been legalized for adult-use, we must ensure that our criminal justice system keeps pace so that individuals with low-level misdemeanor violations related to its use does not preclude them from getting jobs and participating in society,” said Congressman Davis.
In addition, broad bills to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level are making their way through the legislative process. Last April, the House passed the MORE Act, which was introduced by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), but the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate. The House also passed the SAFE Banking Act recently to allow legal cannabis businesses to use banking services.