Rep. Troy Carter, D-La., introduced a bill Friday that would create an expungement mechanism for low-level violations of the federal marijuana law, as the push for decriminalization at the federal level gains momentum.
Co-sponsored by Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the bipartisan legislation will provide an "expedited, orderly process" to clear non-felony offenses that are lingering in the federal system, according to a press release from Carter's office.
The Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act would deliver relief for scores of Americans whose lives have been upended because of a misdemeanor marijuana offense — activity which is now lawful for either recreational or medical purposes in 38 states.
"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," Carter said. "Delivering justice for our citizens who have been impacted by marijuana-related misdemeanors is a key component of comprehensive cannabis reform."
Although more than half of all states have at least decriminalized the drug, it is still illegal at the federal level.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, more than 20 states have enacted laws to create a process for having certain marijuana-related convictions expunged, vacated, set aside or sealed from the public.
Advocates of cannabis reform hailed the legislation as a step in the right direction.
"This landmark legislation will allow countless Americans to move forward with their lives, remove an impediment to economic progress and restore the ability to maximize their full potential – both for themselves and their families," Roz McCarthy, founder and CEO of Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana said. "Addressing the negative societal and economic effects permeated by marijuana prohibition at both the federal and state level will be critical as we seek to deliver comprehensive cannabis reform in this country.
"It is unacceptable that those who have been convicted of low-level marijuana offenses, often disproportionately black and brown people, continue to have the conviction hang over their heads – especially as cannabis legalization, research, and reform efforts are more supported by the American people than ever before," Dr. Chanda Macias, CEO of National Holistic Healing Center said.
In April, the House passed a bill almost entirely along party lines to eliminate criminal penalties for people who manufacture, distribute or possess marijuana. Its future in the evenly split Senate is uncertain.
That same month, the House also passed legislation to permit legal cannabis businesses to use banking services.
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