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New Bipartisan Congressional Bill Would Expunge Federal Marijuana Records



Bipartisan congressional lawmakers have reintroduced a bill that would create a process to expunge federal misdemeanor marijuana convictions and allow courts to recommend presidential pardons for eligible cases.

Reps. Troy Carter (D-LA) and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) filed the Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act on Tuesday. It would require the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court to implement rules to facilitate the “review, expungement, sealing, sequester and redaction” of criminal records for low-level federal cannabis crimes.

If enacted, the measure would build upon federal cannabis clemency actions under President Joe Biden, who has pardoned thousands of people who’ve committed marijuana possession offenses. While the president has previously suggested that the pardons also expunged records, he finally acknowledged that wasn’t the case in May.

The lawmakers’ newly refiled bill lays out specific criminal codes that would constitute an “expungable event.”

That includes current statutes criminalizing possession and distribution of small amounts of marijuana without remuneration, as well as “any other federal misdemeanor, petty offense, infraction, or civil penalty involving marijuana, including marijuana-related drug paraphernalia” that didn’t involve violence or threats of violence.

In order to be eligible for expungement under the proposal, at least one year must have transpired since the arrest or the last, non-technical docket filing. Courts could only process the relief if they haven’t been notified by federal authorities that the given case is ongoing or that the person involved has evaded prosecution.

“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. This bipartisan bill will restore justice to millions of Americans who have suffered excessive secondary consequences associated with marijuana-related misdemeanors,” Carter said in a press release.

“These misdemeanors, even without a conviction, can restrict the ability to access educational aid, housing assistance, occupational licensing, and even foster parenting,” he said. “Delivering justice for people who have been impacted by marijuana-related misdemeanors is a vital part of comprehensive cannabis reform.”

The chief justice would have one year upon enactment of the bill to promulgate the procedural rules for expungements, and each federal district would have up to two years to “conduct a comprehensive review and issue an order expunging, sealing, and sequestering” pursuant to those rules.

The legislation also includes a section on notification requirements. Following an expungement, courts would be required to send copies of the final order to the U.S. attorney general, relevant federal agencies and the criminal justice agencies with jurisdiction over the given case.

A final order would also need to be sent to the person whose records were expunged, and the bill calls for a “reasonable process” to be established that allows individuals to inquire about whether the courts have processed their case. A copy of the final order would also be sent to local law enforcement serving in the area where the person whose case was expunged resides.

“Records matter and carrying a low-level non-criminal petty offense on a record could heavily impact a person’s way of life from sustaining employment to applying to new opportunities,” Armstrong, the Republican prime sponsor who is leaving Congress at the end of the year as he runs for governor of North Dakota, said. “The Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act gives a second chance to non-violent petty marijuana offenders after the sentence is complete and removes barriers to reentry while upholding the rule of law and supporting a more equitable society.”

Under the legislation, which is identical to a version introduced last Congress that did not advance, the U.S. attorney general and federal prosecutors would be able to appeal any expungements within 60 days of their issuance to the U.S. circuit court of appeals for the relevant district.

While the bill provides for an automated process of expungements for certain cannabis convictions, there’s also a section stipulating that individuals would be able to “file a motion for expungement in the court for the Federal district in which the arrest, legal proceedings, and any legal results or consequences…was obtained.”

“The clerk of the court shall serve that petition on the United States Attorney for that district,” the bill text states. “Not later than 60 days after service of such petition, the United States Attorney may submit a response to the Petitioner’s motion.” Also, court fees associated with the petition would be waived under the legislation.

“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,” it says. “An affected individual may treat the expunged arrest, legal proceedings, and any legal results or consequences…as if it never occurred and shall not be held thereafter under any provision of law to be guilty of perjury, false swearing, or making a false statement for failure to disclose, recite, or acknowledge such official record.”

The bill also clarifies that the “fact that an individual has an official record, including a conviction, for an expungable event shall not operate as a disqualification of such individual to pursue or engage in any lawful activity, occupation, or profession.”

Further, the legislation would require the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO), in consultation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to carry out a study into the “arrests, legal proceedings, and any legal results or consequences…for federal marijuana-related misdemeanors, petty offenses, infractions, and civil penalties.”

GAO would have two years following the enactment of the measure to submit a report to Congress with its findings. The agency would also be mandated to work with the chief justice on a separate report to Congress on the implementation of the marijuana misdemeanor expungement policy, with recommendations on further reforms such as providing relief to those with felony cannabis convictions on their records.

One of the final sections of the bill address pardons. It says that, once an expungement is issued with a “finding of good cause,” court would be empowered to “refer the case or petition to the President of the United States and his or her designees” such as the U.S. pardon attorney “for review consistent with the authority granted to the President under Article II, section 2 of the Constitution of the United States.”

This bipartisan legislation was the product of collaboration with Weldon Angelos, a former federal marijuana prisoner who received a presidential pardon under the Trump administration, and Arizona State University professor Erik Luna, who founded the Academy for Justice in the college’s law division.

“While thousands of individuals with federal simple marijuana possession charges were pardoned by President Biden in 2022, the unfortunate reality is that those records still follow them even after that historic act of clemency. But Congress has the authority to provide the expungements necessary to wipe the slate clean and provide a true second chance,” Angelos, president of the Weldon Project, said.

“Our federal marijuana and criminal justice policies must be reformed to recognize the fact that cannabis is now legal in 38 states as we continue to move towards ending prohibition,” he said. “I want to thank Congressman Carter and Congressman Armstrong for introducing this bill creating a mechanism to expunge low-level violations of federal marijuana law, which will be nothing short of lifechanging for countless families impacted by the War on Drugs.”

The press release announcing the bill’s reintroduction discusses Biden’s marijuana pardons, as well as his role in directing an administrative review that led the Justice Department to propose moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). A public comment period to weigh in on that proposed rule is ongoing.

The president also touted his marijuana clemency actions on Monday in a proclamation marking the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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