Lawmakers in Washington, DC, passed criminal justice reform legislation that includes provisions to automatically expunge records of cannabis possession offenses that occurred prior to the District’s partial legalization of marijuana.
The Second Chance Amendment Act was unanimously approved by council members in a 13-0 vote, meaning it is now on its way to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s desk for her signature.
The legislation underwent several amendments before its passage, including one from Councilmember Christina Henderson (D) that ensures automatic expungement extends to all marijuana possession offenses, no matter the quantity of cannabis involved.
Henderson argued this amendment was necessary due to the fact that criminal records do not always include the amount involved, so it is impossible to tell if those offenses exceed the two ounces that adults 21 and older are legally permitted to possess.
“Including all simple possession, rather than just possession of 2 ounces or less, clarifies the intent and allows the court and litigants to better implement the law,” the rationale for the amendment reads.
The proposed law would require all automatic expungements to be fulfilled by January 1, 2025 or “within 90 days after termination of the case by the prosecutor or final disposition, whichever is later.”
While cannabis criminal justice reform progresses, it appears that efforts to allow for legal marijuana sales in Washington, DC for Fiscal Year 2023 has faltered.
Both the House and Senate had previously decided to remove a congressional rider from their budget proposals that precludes the establishment of a regulated cannabis market in DC, but the rider was reinserted into the final spending bill.
Regarding marijuana criminal justice though, Washington, DC, now joins a growing number of states and local jurisdictions that are passing legislation to facilitate cannabis-related expungements. At the same time, more governors are issuing pardons to individuals convicted of cannabis possession offenses, partly in response to President Joe Biden’s call for state-level marijuana clemency.
According to a report from NORML, there have been more than 1.7 million cannabis-related expungements in the past five years, as well as more than 100,000 pardons.