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Monday, Jan 17, 2022
Mugglehead Magazine
Cannabis & psychedelics industry news based in Vancouver, B.C.
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US bill filed to encourage state, local governments to expunge cannabis records

Under the HOPE Act, the attorney general could make grants to state and local governments

Bipartisan expungement bill filed to incentivize state, local governments
Image via US Capitol Flickr

A bipartisan bill that would incentivize municipal and state governments to expunge weed-related charges has been filed.

Reps. Dave Joyce and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act on Thursday. The legislation would appropriate US$2 million for each fiscal year starting in 2023 through 2032 to the U.S. Attorney General to financially assist states and local governments with the expungement process for cannabis convictions.

This would be done by creating the State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program so the attorney general could make grants to state and local governments to ease the financial burden of expunging records.

Funds would go to buying technology to provide cost-effect legal relief at scale, automating the processing of clearing cannabis records and supporting legal clinics to help people through the expungement process. Grants would also go to innovative partnerships to provide wide-scale relief for those eligible.

“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 colour, from employment, housing and other opportunities,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.

From his experience as a public defender and prosecutor, Joyce said he’s seen how cannabis law violations can foreclose a lifetime of opportunities, ranging from employment to education to housing.

“The collateral damage caused by these missed opportunities is woefully underestimated and has impacted entire families, communities, and regional economies,” Joyce said in a statement.

“By helping states establish and improve expungement programs for minor cannabis offences, 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.”

Unlike other expungement efforts from Congress that have focused on clearing federal cannabis charges, the new legislation targets charges on the local and state level.

Some state legalization bills have included provisions to expunge low-level cannabis records, and advocacy organization NORML calculates that state officials have vacated about 2.2 million marijuana-related convictions under these laws over the past two years.

“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,” NORML’s political director Justin Strekal said.

“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.”

The HOPE Act joins a list of bills aimed at reforming American cannabis policies, with most aimed at federally decriminalizing cannabis.

Read more: Republican bill seeks to federally legalize and tax cannabis

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act also includes provisions to clear some weed-related charges. That bill advanced through the House Judiciary Committee in September.

And the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity (CORE) Act would erase weed-related records of arrests and convictions, and allow for resentencing. A draft bill was presented in July.

 

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