A new bill introduced by a bipartisan group of federal legislators late last month is looking to eradicate one form of punishment perpetuated by America’s ongoing War on Drugs.
Presented to Congress by Representatives Rod Blum (R-IA) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), the Clean Slate Act would seal the official records of any nonviolent cannabis crime for qualifying offenders who remain crime-free for one year after the completion of any mandated jail time. Currently, criminal records for any cannabis conviction, including something as minor as smoking a joint in public, remain on file for life, and are easily accessible by any potential employer, landlord, or anyone else with incentive to check.
“The issue is cyclical,” Representative Blum wrote in a press release announcing the bill. “If we do not remove barriers and create opportunities for these individuals to re-enter society, we are setting them up to fail. Statistically, these individuals are more likely to fall into habitual crime and end up incarcerated once again without jobs and a support system.”
In states where cannabis has been legalized, marijuana advocates and socially-conscious politicians have advanced city and state-specific legislation to expunge prohibition-era convictions for actions that would be considered above board under legalization. On a federal level, though, the only option for institutional leniency exists by way of presidential pardon — a long shot considering the Trump administration’s hostility towards weed.
But while politicians like Attorney General Jeff Sessions are perfectly fine touting their classically conservative anti-cannabis stance, not everyone in the Republican party shares the same reefer madness views. In addition to Blum and Blunt Rochester, 20 Representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus have signed on to support the bill, creating a bipartisan support system for the Clean Slate Act.
"We have people who are at the extremes almost of the continuum," Rep. Blunt Rochester told CBS News. "And I think that's an unusual thing especially in today's [political] climate."
The Clean Slate Act isn’t the first piece of legislation on the Hill to target minor forms of cannabis reform, but up to this point, the only bills that have gained significant traction in D.C. have focused on protecting state-legal cannabis businesses and users from incurring the wrath of federal prohibition. Outside of long-shot federal legalization measures, the Clean Slate Act is the first well-supported bill to benefit victims of the War on Drugs and attempt to correct some of the errors in America’s prejudiced criminal justice system.
It is not yet clear if Representative Blum will be able to whip up enough votes from his Republican peers to actually pass the bill, but for the Iowa conservative, the small step towards ending rampant recidivism is a matter of “common sense.”
"For people that are against this, I suggest they tour prisons," Rep. Blum said.
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