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Bipartisan Bill in Congress Would Expunge Federal Cannabis Records

While this bill brings hope to millions of people imprisoned for cannabis-related infringements (otherwise referred to as cannabis prisoners), as it stands, there are some fundamental issues with the bill.

Who Benefits?

The Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act, introduced by Reps. Troy Carter (D-LA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL), would compel the US Supreme Court to engage in a process whereby the federal legal system would remove any record of charges relating to the low-level use of marijuana.

This does come with a fair number of strings attached. For example, anyone who was prosecuted for carrying marijuana while carrying a firearm would not be eligible for relief.

The people who would benefit from this action would be those caught in possession of marijuana in which the circumstances did not involve any violence or threat of violence. According to the federal legal system, carrying a firearm is a threat of violence in and of itself, so most cannabis prisoners will not automatically receive relief.

Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act

What Would The Process Look Like?

The process would be automated for those with a simple marijuana-related conviction. These cannabis prisoners would be identified and their records expunged. They would be deemed to have never set foot in prison or have been charged with a simple cannabis-related crime.

For the majority of cannabis prisoners, however, the process would look slightly different. They will not be automatically identified by the system. Each individual will have to retain counsel and apply for relief through the courts by filing a motion for expungement.

majority of cannabis prisoners

So What’s The Problem?

The bill takes the responsibility out of the hands of the federal government and places it back into the hands of the individual. Though the process is intended to be automated, individuals can also file their own motions for expungement. This potentially leaves the matter in the hands of the individual rather than the state. Furthermore, while this is a good first step, there is still a long road ahead.

It’s important to note the current bill only handles individuals persecuted at the federal level. Individuals persecuted at the state level make up the majority of people persecuted with cannabis-related convictions. These individuals are still at the mercy of their convictions.

Final Thoughts?

The bill, as it stands, is a good first step towards undoing an unnecessary historical prejudice against marijuana users. It is a platform from which to embark on a much longer and larger initiative to bring fair and equal treatment to cannabis users and prisoners, but it doesn’t do enough to address and rectify the larger problem. That problem is the way these groups of individuals have been viewed historically by the law and the willful ignorance of the circumstances under which most of them have come to be imprisoned in the first place.

For the bill to work as it is intended, there should be further consultation with representatives of the groups it was intended to benefit, as well as a robust and honest discussion surrounding what actually constitutes a crime once the marijuana charge has been removed from the equation.

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