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Bipartisan Bill Would Clear Federal Marijuana Misdemeanor Records

American lives have been uprooted because of simple misdemeanor marijuana offenses—punishments for an activity that is now legal for various purposes in 38 states. New legislation could provide the necessary mechanism for Americans to get rid of low-level marijuana offenses at federal level.

Congressmen Troy A. Carter, Sr. (D-LA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced The Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act—bipartisan legislation that would create an expungement pathway for low-level violations of federal marijuana offenses.

It would provide “an expedited, orderly process that clears the deck of non-felony marijuana offenses” in the federal system, according to a July 29 press release.

Weldon Angolos, the president of The Weldon Project testified for decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level and supported Americans facing the consequences of their past convictions at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on July 26. The entire testimony of Weldon Angelos can be viewed here. He was also a supporter and co-author of the Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act.

Angelos explained the difference between federal misdemeanor and felony criminal charges.

“One thing about the federal system is that there’s absolutely no way to expunge a record, so basically a misdemeanor in the federal system functions like a felony because it stays on your record forever—unlike most of the 50 states which have some kind of mechanism to expunge a low-level possession cannabis offenes,” Angelos tells Chronic News. “The federal system has nothing. So it stays on your record for life.”

Angelos explained that similar bills were also introduced. The Harnessing Opportunities for Pursuing Expungement Act (HOPE), was introduced by Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14), who is co-chair of House Cannabis Caucus. This bipartisan bill is designed to aid states in expunging marijuana offenses. It reduces the administrative and financial cost of federal grants.

“Me and Professor [Erik] Luna came up with the idea because Congress right now can’t pass something comprehensive,” Angelos says. “So we tried to find something that Republicans would be okay with, and that would still be some kind of progress, and something that also the Democrats could couple with—something like the HOPE Act or the SAFE Banking Act. It’s so that we can get something done this year, and that’s really the idea.”

“I want to thank the cosponsors for introducing this important legislation, which offers an approach to marijuana expungement that is coherent, efficient, and just—all without threatening public safety,” said Professor Erik Luna, who founded the Academy for Justice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Angelos said that federal misdemeanors can have a personal impact on his life.

“I know three people—personally—who have been charged with federal marijuana misdemeanor charges. And this is from 2003 or so, and it still shows up when they do background checks.”

“Today it still impacts them.”

Davis and Congressmen Carter applauded as co-sponsors of the bill. “I’m proud to introduce The Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act, bipartisan legislation that will restore justice to millions of Americans who have suffered inordinate collateral consequences associated with marijuana-related misdemeanors,” said Congressman Carter. “These misdemeanors—even without a conviction—can result in restrictions to peoples’ ability to access educational aid, housing assistance, occupational licensing and even foster parenting. Delivering justice for our citizens who have been impacted by marijuana-related misdemeanors is a key component of comprehensive cannabis reform.”

“Given the number of states, like Illinois, where marijuana has long been legalized for adult-use, we must ensure that our criminal justice system keeps pace so that individuals with low-level misdemeanor violations related to its use does not preclude them from getting jobs and participating in society,” said Congressman Davis.

Additionally, bills that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level have been introduced and are currently moving through the legislative process. Although the MORE Act was approved by the House in April (introduced by Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.), it is not yet known if the Senate will approve the legislation. Recent legislation in the House was also approved, the SAFE Banking Act. This law allows legal cannabis business to utilize banking services.