Bipartisan legislation providing funding to assist states in their efforts to expunge marijuana convictions has been reintroduced in the House of Representatives. The Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, sponsored by Reps. David Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), allocates $20 million in federal funds over the course of ten years to provide grants to state and local governments to help expedite the process of providing relief for those with low-level marijuana convictions.
“The HOPE Act promises just that: hope and a second chance for people suffering the lifelong consequences of a state-level marijuana possession arrest,” NORML Political Director Morgan Fox said. “As more states repeal their failed policies of criminalizing marijuana consumers, it is incumbent upon Congress to assist them in repairing the associated harms it helped perpetuate for decades. This legislation is a great step toward righting the wrongs caused by prohibition and improving the lives of millions of people nationwide.”
The sponsors introduced this same legislation in the previous Congress, but it did not receive a hearing or vote before the end of the session.
Depending on the jurisdiction, penalties stemming from a marijuana-related arrest — even for a first-time offense — may include the possibility of jail and a lifelong criminal record; probation and mandatory drug testing; loss of employment; loss of child custody; removal from subsidized housing; loss of student aid; loss of voting privileges; loss of adoption rights; and the loss of certain federal welfare benefits, such as food stamps.
In October, President Joe Biden announced that he would provide pardons to people with non-violent federal marijuana possession convictions. The pardon certificate application process was made available to eligible individuals in March. The US Sentencing Commission estimates that roughly 6500 people are able to benefit from these pardons. By contrast, state and local law enforcement have arrested an estimated 30 million Americans since 1965 for violating marijuana laws.
To date, 24 states have enacted laws providing explicit pathways to either expunge (or otherwise set aside) the records of those with low-level marijuana convictions. According to publicly available data compiled by NORML, state and local officials have issued over 100,000 pardons and more than 1.8 million marijuana-related expungements since 2018.