WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new bill sponsored by Representatives Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) would incentivize state and local governments to expunge the criminal records of tens of millions of Americans convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses.
The Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, would fund a $20-million grant program administered by the Department of Justice, which would apportion the funds to states and local governments to reduce administrative costs associated with identifying and clearing cases. Grant monies could be used for technology to handle cases at scale, fund clinics to help affected individuals pursue expungement, and support “innovative partnerships.”
The bill also would require the U.S. Attorney General to produce a study about the individual impact of criminal marijuana convictions and incarceration costs for nonviolent cannabis crimes.
If passed, Congress would appropriate $2 million annually beginning in 2023 and ending in 2032.
“As we continue to advocate for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, this bipartisan bill will provide localities the resources they need to expunge drug charges that continue to hold back Americans—disproportionately people of color—from employment, housing and other opportunities,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Joyce added, “By helping states establish and improve expungement programs for minor cannabis offenses, the HOPE Act will pave the way for expanded economic opportunities to thrive alongside effective investments to redress the consequences of the war on drugs.”
More than a dozen states have enacted laws facilitating expungement of low-level cannabis convictions. Courts have vacated an estimated 2.2 million convictions over the past two years.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, state and local law enforcement arrested more than 350,000 Americans for cannabis crimes in 2020—91 percent of them for simple possession. Since 2010, state and local police have arrested an estimated 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws.