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AOC Joins Forces With GOP Lawmaker On Bill To Help States Expunge Cannabis Records

The number of cannabis bills making their way through Congress keeps growing.

A bi-partisan pair of House lawmakers, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), introduced federal legislation on Thursday that would offer states financial and administrative support to expunge pot-related offenses.

The Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act would allow the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to make grants to states and localities to speed up the oft-arduous task of clearing cannabis records. The money would be allocated from a fund capped at $20 million over the next decade, and could be used to purchase technology to automate the expungement process, provide legal assistance to people seeking to get their records cleared and launch a system to notify those whose records have been wiped.

In recent years, a growing number of states have started working towards clearing cannabis offenses, but the process can be expensive and time-consuming, especially for states that have yet to fully digitize their criminal records. In Maryland, a recent cost analysis found that the state would need to hire 400 staffers and cough up more than $17 million to identify all cannabis records eligible for expungement.

Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement on Thursday that the HOPE Act would help relieve some of those administrative and financial burdens.

“As we continue to advocate for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, this bipartisan bill will provide localities the resources they need to expunge drug charges that continue to hold back Americans, disproportionately people of color, from employment, housing and other opportunity,” she said.

The Bronx native has advocated for cannabis reforms since she took office in 2019, and is a co-sponsor of the MORE Act, a bill to legalize the plant at the federal level that was approved by a key House committee in September.

Joyce, her co-sponsor on the bill, is the co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, an alliance of House Democrats and Republicans that want to bridge the gap between state and federal cannabis laws. In April, he introduced the Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses and Medical Professionals Act, a bill to remove weed from the Controlled Substances Act and to start regulating it like alcohol.

“By helping states establish and improve expungement programs for minor cannabis offenses, the HOPE Act will pave the way for expanded economic opportunities to thrive alongside effective investments to redress the consequences of the War on Drugs,” Joyce said on Thursday.

Though the federal government continues to prosecute people for weed-related offenses, most cannabis convictions are handed down in state and local courts. The vast majority of the 545,601 cannabis arrests that occurred in 2019 were executed by state and local police, according to FBI data.

“Most of the expungement conversations in Congress have focused on federal convictions, which is laudable but glosses over the fact that the vast majority of cannabis arrests occur at the state level,” said Aaron Smith, CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “Getting these charges expunged can be prohibitively expensive for both state governments and individuals hoping to clear their records and get their lives back.

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