Inside Bill to Expunge Some Federal Marijuana Crimes

Inside Bill to Expunge Some Federal Marijuana Crimes
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Oregon House Representative Earl Blumenauer plans to introduce a bill to Congress today that would clear and expunge particular federal marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal in a number of states across the country — but some marijuana activists are skeptical of how many people it would actually help.

The Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act of 2015 would clear criminals records of those who were federally charged with marijuana activity that was state-legal at the time and those who were federally charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Bluemenauer, a supporter of cannabis legalization at the federal level, attacked what he calls "failed prohibition" in a prepared statement.

"I support legalizing marijuana at the federal level to put a stop to any state-federal conflicts once and for all, but it is also important that we create pathways for expungement for those who should never have been charged in the first place," he said.

Blumenauer (middle-right), a Democrat, announced his plans to introduce the bill yesterday at a press event with fellow Oregon Representatives Lew Frederick (middle-left) and Ann Lininger.
Blumenauer (middle-right), a Democrat, announced his plans to introduce the bill yesterday at a press event with fellow Oregon Representatives Lew Frederick (middle-left) and Ann Lininger.
Earl Blumenauer Facebook Page

Since 2012, four states (Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon) have legalized adult-use cannabis and approved a regulated system for selling and taxing the plant; twenty states have decriminalized personal possession of small amounts. Of the 693,482 arrested in 2013 for a marijuana law violation, 609,423 were cited for possession according to the Drug Policy Alliance, an anti-drug war organization.

That doesn't mean over 600,000 people would have their records cleared if Blumenaur's bill passes, however. As Mason Tvert, Communications Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, points out, most possession arrests are done at the state, not federal, level. 

"The bill is well-intentioned and we certainly support it," Tvert says. "But unfortunately, I don’t think it will accomplish as much as people would like it to. There's just not a huge number of people that this would effect. People aren’t usually charged for marijuana possession, especially with less than an ounce, at the federal level."

Tvert says his organization backs any bill that clears the records of minor cannabis offenders, but he offered a simpler approach for lawmakers: "Just stop busting people for marijuana."

Denver cannabis attorney Rob Corry echoes Tvert's feelings.

Rob Corry.EXPAND
Rob Corry.
File photo

“I strongly support this legislation, although it should go farther," Corry says in an e-mail. "It is the American Way to forgive and forget and afford good people second chances. Felony convictions are too often used to permanently exclude good people from jobs, housing, and other opportunities."

Corry also had some choice words for the clemency work of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

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"Governor Hickenlooper’s failure to exercise his constitutional powers of pardon and commutation to show mercy for marijuana POWs (disproportionately poor, black, and brown people) while feeding at the trough of marijuana taxes will be perhaps the worst lingering stain on his otherwise-adequate political legacy," he maintains.

Hickenlooper, who said he would reverse Amendment 64's results if he could in 2012, recently told a panel he has changed in his mind over the past two years-plus. But that hasn't led to any marijuana prisoners receiving a pardon. Some Colorado pot prisoners were a little more fortunate in 2012, when Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett and Denver DA Mitch Morrissey both directed their offices to drop standing marijuana cases against those whose actions became legal once Amendment 64 was singed into law. 

While Blumenauer admits the numbers of federal marijuana possession charges are annually low in his bill announcement, the Congressman hopes introducing the bill today will create a precedent at the federal level that states will follow. His bill summary reads, "Over seven million people have been arrested with marijuana possession when totaling state, federal and local law enforcement statistics over the past 10 years." He adds that the bill "also sends a strong signal to state and local jurisdictions that allowing a pathway for expungement for certain marijuana offenders should happen at all levels of law enforcement."

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