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Senator Files Marijuana Expungements Bill That Schumer Has Discussed Including In Banking Reform Package



A Democratic senator has introduced a bill to create federal incentives for states, localities and Indian tribes that expunge low-level marijuana records—an equity-focused reform proposal Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has repeatedly discussed attaching to bipartisan cannabis banking legislation that’s pending floor action.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) filed the Harnessing Opportunity by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act on Thursday. It would establish a federal grant program to help jurisdictions around the country facilitate cannabis clemency for people who’ve been convicted of offenses that have since been made legal.

If enacted, the Justice Department would run a new State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program, which would help cover the administrative costs of identifying and clearing eligible cases.

“While cannabis has been regulated in our state since 2017, many Nevadans are still dealing with the effects of past low-level marijuana offenses,” Rosen said in a press release. “Having a record for something that is now legal in our state threatens Nevadans’ ability to get a job, apply for housing, and contribute to our state’s economy.”

“That’s why I’m introducing this bipartisan bill to help expunge and seal certain marijuana convictions in states like Nevada where it has been legalized or decriminalized,” she said. “I’ll continue working across the aisle to support commonsense cannabis reform that helps small businesses in our state.”

A House version of the HOPE Act was reintroduced by Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) last year.

Rosen’s measure is mostly identical, with two key differences in addition to some technical and structural changes.

For one, it extends grant eligibility to tribal entities instead of only states and localities as is the case under the House bill. And it would also make grants available to states that “significantly” reduce penalties for cannabis offenses, even if they still involve jail time. The effect of this would broaden the grant eligibility pool to include certain non-legal cannabis states that enact more limited reform.

Schumer on Thursday noted Rosen’s introduction of the expungements legislation, saying in a post on X that “as we continue to find a path forward on SAFER Banking Act and cannabis reform—I’m committed to including the HOPE Act to ensure expungement of records is part of the package.”

“We must ensure those who were most harmed by the War on Drugs don’t get shut out of the growing industry,” he said.

The legislation proposes to appropriate $2 million in funding to support the program for each fiscal year starting in 2025 and ending in 2034.

Grants could be used by states to purchase technology used to facilitate expungements at scale, automate the relief process, fund legal clinics to help people get their records cleared and support “innovative partnerships” to provide mass relief.

“As the Administration continues to review the federal classification of cannabis, we continue to call for more to be done on criminal justice reform that is outside the scope of the administrative scheduling process,” Saphira Galoob, executive director of the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR), said.

“The HOPE Act will do just that by allowing federal funds to be access by local and state governments that choose to move the ball forward in their own jurisdictions by expunging records of those charged with cannabis-related conduct that is now legal under their laws,” she said.

Anthony Lamorena, senior manager of federal affairs at the R Street Institute, said the HOPE Act is a “key piece of legislation that will provide states and localities the resources they need to implement automated expungement or record sealing processes for cannabis offenses.”

“This bill provides a second chance for the millions of Americans who have cannabis arrests or convictions and restores their access to education, employment, housing, and other resources they need to remain law-abiding,” he said. “Studies show that access to these life necessities provides the much-needed support to remain crime-free, which allows them to contribute to society and the economy. Our communities are safer and our economy is stronger when individuals no longer face the pervasive barriers of a criminal record.”

Under the bill, state governors and local governments “shall submit to the attorney general an application at such time, in such manner, and containing such information as the attorney general may reasonably require” to qualify for the grants.

Further, the legislation would require the attorney general to carry out a study on the impacts of cannabis convictions on individuals, as well as the financial costs for states that incarcerate people over non-violent marijuana offenses.

Officials in jurisdictions that receive the grants would be required to “publish on a publicly accessible website information about the availability and process of expunging convictions for cannabis offenses, including information for individuals living in a different jurisdiction who were convicted of a cannabis offense in that jurisdiction.”

They would also need to “submit to the attorney general a report describing the uses of such funds, and how many convictions for cannabis offenses have been expunged using such funds.”

Layke Martin, executive director of the Nevada Cannabis Association, said Rosen’s legislation “would go a long way towards removing the barriers to expungement in many states and, in Nevada, towards sealing cannabis records that might otherwise negatively impact Nevadans in a state where both medical and adult-use cannabis have been legal for many years.”

Riana Durrett, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Cannabis Policy Institute, said cannabis clemency represents “one important step in addressing the harms caused by the Nation’s flawed and misguided cannabis criminalization laws.”

The proposal wouldn’t end federal marijuana prohibition, but it would help facilitate relief at the state level, where most cannabis arrests take place in the U.S. It is also being endorsed by NORML, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the Last Prisoner Project (LPP).

Schumer has, on multiple occasions, described the HOPE Act as a priority that he intends to incorporate into the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act that cleared committee last September and is awaiting floor action.

Bipartisan and bicameral lawmakers have becoming increasingly vocal about different mechanisms through which they might be able to advance the underlying cannabis banking bill, including the possibility of moving it as part of a package with cryptocurrency regulations legislation that could be attached to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization measure.

Schumer also recently asked people to show their support for the SAFER Banking Act by signing a petition as he steps up his push for the legislation. A poll released last month by the American Bankers Association (ABA) shows that roughly three out of five Americans support allowing marijuana industry access to the banking system.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) said that that “if Republicans want to keep the House,” they should pass the marijuana banking bill, arguing that “there are votes” to approve it.

Schumer told Marijuana Moment last month that the bill remains a “very high priority” for the Senate, and members are having “very productive” bicameral talks to reach a final agreement.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also said last month that passing the SAFER Banking Act off the floor is a “high priority.” However, he also recently said in a separate interview that advancing the legislation is complicated by current House dynamics.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) separately said during a recent American Bankers Association (ABA) summit that he wants to see the SAFER Banking Act move.

He said that, “for whatever reason, the federal government has been slow” to act on the incremental reform that he supports even though he doesn’t identify as “a marijuana guy.”

One key factor that’s kept the bill from the Senate floor is disagreement over mostly non-cannabis provisions dealing with broader banking regulations, primarily those contained in Section 10 of the legislation.

Bicameral negotiations have been ongoing, however, and recent reporting suggests that a final deal could be just over the horizon.

The Democratic Senate sponsor of the SAFER Banking Act, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), told Marijuana Moment last month that the legislation is “gaining momentum” as lawmakers work to bring it to the floor and pass it “this year.”

At the close of the first half of the 118th Congress in December, Schumer said in a floor speech that lawmakers would “hit the ground running” in 2024, aiming to build on bipartisan progress on several key issues, including marijuana banking reform—though he noted it “won’t be easy.”

Read the text of the HOPE Act below: 

Senator Presses Attorney General Garland On Marijuana Banking Bill’s Impact On Criminal Investigations

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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