Democrat and Republican Lawmakers Join Hands to Expunge Federal Cannabis Crimes
While some members of Congress are promoting large-scale bills to federally legalize weed, others are focusing on more modest efforts that have a greater chance of success.
Published on August 3, 2022

Two US Representatives just proposed a bipartisan bill that would give people convicted of federal cannabis charges a chance to clear their criminal records.

The Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act, filed by Reps. Troy Carter (D-LA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) last week, would set up a process for expunging cannabis-related federal misdemeanor convictions. If passed, the bill would require the chief justice of the Supreme Court to come up with a plan for reviewing, expunging, and sealing relevant cases. Some crimes would be eligible for automatic expungement, but all eligible individuals would be also allowed to apply for the process themselves.

As the bill's title implies, these expungements would only be available to people who have been convicted of marijuana misdemeanors. These include arrests for possession, distribution without remuneration, petty offenses, civil penalties, possession of paraphernalia, and other minor charges. Crimes involving both cannabis and violence, which are generally considered felonies, would not be eligible for expungement. People who have been convicted on federal charges for selling weed would not be given a chance to clear their records either.

Even with these limitations, the bill could still “restore justice to millions of Americans who have suffered inordinate collateral consequences associated with marijuana-related misdemeanors,” Rep. Carter said in a statement. “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.”

“An order of expungement shall restore the affected individual, in the contemplation of the law, to the status he or she occupied before such arrest, legal proceedings, and any legal results or consequences,” the bill explained. “An affected individual may treat the expunged arrest, legal proceedings, and any legal results or consequences…as if it never occurred.” People who receive expungements would no longer automatically be disqualified from receiving student loans, employment, or professional licensing.

“It is increasingly clear to policymakers that saddling people with the lifelong collateral consequences of even a low-level marijuana arrest or conviction is unjust and provides no legitimate benefit to society,” said NORML Political Director Morgan Fox in a press release. “Facilitating the expungement of minor federal marijuana offenses is a necessary step that will allow impacted people to reach their full potential.”

The legislation also sets up a provision that would allow some former offenders a chance to receive presidential pardons for their crimes. Specifically, the bill would allow courts to directly refer eligible cases to the office of the President or the US Pardon Attorney for consideration. President Biden has repeatedly promised to grant clemency to federal prisoners serving time for minor weed crimes, but has yet to follow through with that promise.

Lawmakers have also rolled expungement provisions into two comprehensive bills that would entirely end the federal prohibition of cannabis. But without support from Biden or Senate Republicans, these bills seem doomed to fail. This grim reality has convinced lawmakers like Carter and Davis to draft smaller-scale bills that have a greater chance of becoming law.

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Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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