Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) filed the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act which is a bill that will incentivize local and state governments to expunge non-violent cannabis convictions in their jurisdictions, as reported in Marijuana Moment.
“Having been both a public defender and a prosecutor, I have seen first-hand how cannabis law violations can foreclose a lifetime of opportunities ranging from employment to education to housing,” Joyce said in a press release. “The collateral damage caused by these missed opportunities is woefully underestimated and has impacted entire families, communities, and regional economies.”
Joyce is the Co-Chair of the House Cannabis Caucus and, along with Ocasio-Cortez, has advocated for cannabis reform.
The bipartisan bill will create the State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program, encouraging states to expunge cannabis offenses by reducing the administrative and financial burden associated with those efforts. The grant will run through the United States Department of Justice.
The HOPE Act will also authorize the grant program to be funded up to $20 million for Fiscal Years 2023-2032.
“As we continue to advocate for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, this bill will provide needed resources to expunge drug charges that continue to hold back Americans – disproportionately people of color – from employment, housing, and another opportunity,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet.
Under the proposed legislation, state governors and local governments will have to apply with the required information for the grant. The application will be forwarded to and reviewed by the attorney general.
The legislation will also require the attorney general to study the financial costs of incarcerating individuals over non-violent cannabis crimes and the impacts of marijuana convictions on people.
Officials awarded the grants will be required to submit a report to the attorney general detailing how the funds are used and how many cannabis convictions have been expunged using the funds. State and local officials will also be required to publish information about the availability and procedure for expunging cannabis-related convictions on a public website.
Although the HOPE Act will not legalize marijuana, it will help provide relief for people affected by cannabis-related crimes at the state level.
“Ultimately, efforts to provide necessary relief to those who carry the scarlet letter of a marijuana conviction must be carried out primarily by state and local officials,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a statement published by NORML. “Having this federal incentive available will go a long way toward empowering local leaders and citizens to take these steps to address the past injustices brought about the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, and will also move us closer toward embracing more reasonable cannabis policies.”
Celebrities have also joined efforts to raise support on expunging cannabis convictions to people affected. Grammy-award-winning artist Drake and more than 150 advocates signed a letter urging President Joe Biden to pardon people with non-violent cannabis convictions.
Although many states have legalized adult-use cannabis, people have criminal records for minor possession of small quantities of cannabis in plastic jars.
Some states like New Jersey have already expunged 360,000 marijuana-related convictions.
The HOPE Act will first need to be passed in the House of Representatives, followed by the Senate before reaching President Biden’s desk.
“Goes to show that lawmakers don’t have to agree on everything to find common ground on solutions to the challenges facing everyday Americans,” Joyce said in a tweet.