Members of the District’s City Council have advanced amended legislation, the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021, to the desk of Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Council members voted 13 to zero in favor of the measure, which calls for the automatic review and expungement of any convictions or citations specific to marijuana-related offenses that have subsequently been decriminalized or legalized. All expungements are required to be processed by January 1, 2025.
District voters legalized the limited possession and home cultivation of cannabis via the passage of a municipal initiative in 2014. The following year, marijuana-related arrests in the District fell some 99 percent. However, prior to the law’s adoption, DC had one of the nation’s highest per capita arrest rates for marijuana-related offenses — averaging one arrest every two hours.
The District is set to join a growing number of states that have enacted laws in recent years providing explicit pathways to either expunge (or otherwise set aside) the records of those with low-level marijuana convictions. According to a new report issued by NORML, state and local officials nationwide have issued over 100,000 pardons and more than 1.7 million marijuana-related expungements since 2018 as a result of these policies.
NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano emphasized the importance of lawmakers creating pathways to facilitate the automatic review and expungement past criminal convictions, stating: “Hundreds of thousands of Americans unduly carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that most Americans, and a growing number of states, no longer consider to be a crime. Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that public officials and the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”
Once approved by the Mayor, the Act must undergo a 30-day Congressional review prior to becoming law.