House Judiciary Committee Approves Measures to Help Seal and Expunge Marijuana Arrests

Marijuana Legislation

Members of the United States House Judiciary Committee approved a pair of bills yesterday to help alleviate the lifelong collateral consequences associated with marijuana convictions.

The committee, led by Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), voted in a bipartisan manner to advance the Clean Slate Act and the Fresh Start Act. (Representative Nadler is also the chief sponsor of the federal marijuana repeal bill, The MORE Act, which passed the full House for the second time in April.)

The Clean Slate Act, or H.R. 2864, automatically seals many non-violent federal marijuana convictions and create penalties for anyone improperly sharing information about individuals’ sealed convictions. (However, the bill does include provisions that would allow some convictions to appear on background checks for certain safety-sensitive employment positions.)

The Fresh Start Act, or H.R. 5651, provides tens of millions of dollars in federal funding to help states facilitate the automatic expungement of convictions for marijuana violations among other offenses. Legislatures in nearly two dozen states have enacted laws authorizing the expungement of low-level cannabis convictions. Over the past few years, state officials have vacated an estimated 2.2 million marijuana-related convictions under these laws.

“Beyond the actual penalties incurred under law, a simple marijuana possession conviction can also carry with it a host of lifetime collateral consequences. In many cases, it is the modern-day equivalent of the ‘Scarlet Letter’ and it can negatively impact a person’s ability to function and thrive in society,” said NORML Political Director Morgan Fox. “At a time when most Americans want to end marijuana prohibition and nearly a majority of people now reside states where cannabis is legal, it makes no sense to continue punishing adults and robbing them of the opportunity to fulfill their potential for behavior that in many cases is no longer a crime. The need for this kind of legislative assistance is even more pressing considering the racially and economically disparate nature of enforcement over the past half a century.”

The impact of a marijuana-related arrest or criminal record can have lifelong consequences, even in states that have since made the substance legal for adults. People with marijuana convictions often continue to face discrimination when it comes to employment, housing, banking, education, healthcare, child custody, security clearances, and a host of other areas.

“Members of the House have shown a commitment this term to advancing cannabis reform,” said Fox. “They have repeatedly affirmed that the time has come to start repairing the harms caused by prohibition and enact modern, sensible cannabis policies that are supported by a supermajority of voters. The Senate has the opportunity to follow suit by passing substantive legislation that can change peoples’ lives for the better and facilitate immeasurable opportunities — especially in marginalized and unfairly targeted communities — but the time for them to act is quickly running out.”