A bipartisan duo of congressional lawmakers introduced a bill that would encourage state and local officials to expedite expungements of cannabis-related records in their jurisdictions.
Reps Dave Jorce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are the sponsors behind the bill, the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act.
State would be incentivized to expunge non-violent cannabis records by way of federal grants under a newly-created State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program (SEOGP), which would be overseen by the Department of Justice. These grants would help fund the administrative costs of expungements.
The measure would apportion at least $2 million annually to finance the SEOGP until 2032.
Some of ways in which this money would be used would be to establish automatic expungement processes and fund information awareness campaigns, as well as to provide legal support for people going through the expungement process.
“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,” Joyce said. “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,” he continued.
In announcing the new legislation, Ocasio-Cortez said the bill would “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.”
The bill would compel the attorney general to commission a study into the impact of marijuana convictions on people’s life opportunities, as well as into the costs borne by states for jailing individuals for non-violent cannabis offenses.
If a jurisdiction receives approval for a grant, it would then be required to “publish on a publicly accessible website information about the availability and process of expunging convictions for cannabis offenses, including information for individuals living in a different jurisdiction who were convicted of a cannabis offense in that jurisdiction.”
It would also need to report to the attorney general on how the funds were used and how many cannabis-related convictions had been expunged.
The measure wouldn’t bring an end to federal cannabis criminalization, but its narrow focus on helping provide relief for those burdened with convictions for offenses that are now legal at the state level perhaps gives it a good chance of progressing in an increasingly open atmosphere toward marijuana reform at the federal level.
While President Joe Biden has still not committed himself to supporting comprehensive federal marijuana legalization, such as the proposal that’s in the works from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, he has said that no one should face jail time for non-violent cannabis offenses and that any such records should be expunged.
Schumer’s measure also contains expungement provisions, as does the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act which has been approved four times by House lawmakers.
A more recent federal decriminalization bill introduced by Republican lawmakers also contains provisions to facilitate expungements.