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New Congressional Bill Would Automatically Seal Marijuana Records

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People convicted of federal, nonviolent marijuana offenses or drug possession would have their records automatically sealed under a U.S. House bill introduced Tuesday.

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) filed the bill—dubbed the Clean Slate Act—which stipulates that criminal records should be sealed exactly one year after a person serves out their sentence, so long as they don’t commit crimes again.

Twenty other representatives have already cosponsored the legislation, including Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

From the bill:

“At the time of sentencing of a covered individual for a conviction pursuant to section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act or of any Federal nonviolent offense involving marijuana, the court shall enter an order that each record and portion thereof that relates to the offense shall be sealed automatically on the date that is one year after the covered individual fulfills each requirement of the sentence, except that such record shall not be sealed if the individual has been convicted of a subsequent criminal offense.”

The Clean Slate Act is the latest in a string of bills that aim to reform federal drug laws, with a particular emphasis on cannabis.

Though not quite as wide-ranging as bills such as the Marijuana Justice Act introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with a companion House bill from Lee, the primary objective is similar: mitigate the long-term harms of the federal drug war by giving nonviolent offenders a second chance.

As more states have moved to legalize, marijuana-related convictions have fallen demonstrably at the federal level, according to a United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) report released in June. That said, drug crimes still account for the bulk of the federal caseload.

In 2017, about 1,300 federal drug convictions were for “the simple possession of a drug” alone.

If this bill passes, eligible individuals who have previously served out their sentence would be able to submit a petition to a U.S. district court in order to get their records cleaned.

The bill also requires district courts to keep track of things like how many petitions are granted or rejected—information that would be included in a public report.

While a growing majority of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal, an even larger percentage of the population (73 percent) believes that criminal records should be automatically sealed for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses, according to a 2018 report from the Center for American Progress.

Via Center for American Progress

“The Clean Slate Act is important legislation that would ease the burden felt by those unjustly suffering the collateral consequences resulting from cannabis prohibition,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment.

“Individuals saddled with a marijuana possession conviction are disproportionately either people of color or at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, and it is essential that they are not held back from being able to obtain employment, housing, access to higher education, and all of the other necessities of being an active participant in their community. Having been arrested for mere marijuana possession does not make one a bad person, but rather a victim of a cruel public policy.”

Congressman Pushes Federal Employment Protections For Marijuana Consumers

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Kyle Jaeger is an LA-based contributor to Marijuana Moment. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, and attn.

Politics

People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week

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Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve  socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.

Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.

The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”

In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.

To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.

The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.

“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”

Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”

“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”

Marijuana Use Will No Longer Be Prosecuted In Manhattan

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Politics

Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue

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Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.

Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”

“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.

Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”

Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.

“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”

Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.

“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.

So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”

It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.

Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.

Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”

Hm…

GIF by #ActionAliens

Melissa Etheridge Talks Art, Culture and Marijuana Advocacy In The Legalization Era

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Politics

Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says

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Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.

The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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