Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced legislation to incentivize state and local governments to expunge the criminal records of tens of millions of Americans who have previously been convicted of marijuana offenses.
“This bipartisan effort represents the growing consensus to reform marijuana policies in a manner that addresses the harms inflicted by prohibition,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “It provides cash assistance for state and localities that are wisely choosing to remove these stigmatizing records. There is no justification for continuing to prevent tens of millions of Americans from fully participating in their community and workforce simply because they bear the burden of a past marijuana conviction.”
The new bill, entitled The Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, will appropriate $20 million to the US Attorney General for the purposes of financially assisting states and local governments with the process of reviewing and expunging cannabis convictions.
“Having been both a public defender and a prosecutor, I have seen first-hand how cannabis law violations can foreclose a lifetime of opportunities ranging from employment to education to housing,” said Rep. Dave Joyce. “The collateral damage caused by these missed opportunities is woefully underestimated and has impacted entire families, communities, and regional economies. 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.”
“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,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Legislatures in over a dozen states have enacted laws explicitly facilitating the expungement of low-level cannabis convictions. State officials have vacated an estimated 2.2 million marijuana-related convictions under these laws over the past two years.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, over 350,000 Americans were arrested by state and local law enforcement for marijuana crimes in 2020. Ninety-one percent of those arrested were charged with simple possession. Since 2010, state and local police have arrested an estimated 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws.
“Ultimately, efforts to provide necessary relief to those who carry the scarlet letter of a marijuana conviction must be carried out primarily by state and local officials,” concluded Strekal. “Having this federal incentive available will go a long way toward empowering local leaders and citizens to take these steps to address the past injustices brought about by the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, and will also move us closer toward embracing more reasonable cannabis policies,” concluded Strekal.
Supporters of the bill can contact their member of the House and encourage their support using the NORML Action Alert here.
You can find the bill text here.
NORML advocates for changes in public policy so that the responsible possession and use of marijuana by adults is no longer subject to criminal penalties. NORML further advocates for a regulated commercial cannabis market so that activities involving the for-profit production and retail sale of cannabis and cannabis products are safe, transparent, consumer-friendly, and are subject to state and/or local licensure. Finally, NORML advocates for additional changes in legal and regulatory policies so that those who use marijuana responsibly no longer face either social stigma or workplace discrimination, and so that those with past criminal records for marijuana-related violations have the opportunity to have their records automatically expunged.