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Federal Marijuana Records Would Be Automatically Sealed Under New Bipartisan Congressional Bill

Published 3 days ago on May 5, 2023 By Kyle Jaeger

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Bipartisan congressional lawmakers have filed a bill to mandate the automatic sealing of criminal records for certain non-violent federal marijuana convictions.

Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) reintroduced the Clean Slate Act last week. The measure would also provide relief to people who have been arrested for other offenses that did not result in a conviction.

The legislation has been filed over the last several sessions, and the previous version advanced through the House Judiciary Committee last year. It wasn’t ultimately taken up on the floor, however.

“Since coming to Congress, the Clean Slate Act has been one of my top priorities,” Blunt Rochester said in a press release. “With 9 in 10 employers conducting background checks, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 universities doing the same, we know just how critical it is to give those who have served their time and paid their debt to society a clean slate and a second chance.”

“As we continue to face workforce shortages impacting industries across the country and our economy, it’s never been more important to do all we can to create equitable economic opportunity for millions of Americans,” she said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues across the aisle and across Congress to pass this much-needed legislation and send it to President Biden’s desk.”

The bill would establish a new process for people to petition the courts for record sealing for non-violent offenses that aren’t eligible for automatic sealing. They could repetition for relief after two years if the court denied their initial request.

Further, district courts would be able to appoint a public defender to assist “indigent petitioners” process their requests for record sealing.

“As Americans, we believe in second chances. We believe in redemption. And we believe in the power of forgiveness,” Mace said. “The Clean Slate Act, a bill that would give Americans who have paid their debt to society a fair shot at rebuilding their lives, is needed. We must reform our criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation and second chances, and this bill is an important step in the right direction.”

While President Joe Biden issued a mass pardon for thousands of people who’ve committed federal cannabis possession offenses last year, the impact of that action is limited, as presidential pardons do not affect the visibility of conviction records.

Also, the president’s clemency action only affect people who’ve committed the offense before or on the day of the pardon proclamation in October of last year.

The Clean Slate Act enjoys support from a diverse cast of institutions, including the American Conservative Union, Brennan Center for Justice, Center for American Progress, Clean Slate Initiative, Code for America, JPMorgan Chase, Justice Action Network (JAN), LinkedIn, and R Street.

“By creating a process for clearing low-level nonviolent federal records, and streamlining the process through automation, the Clean Slate Act will help people pursue stable career opportunities,” Nan Gibson, executive director of the JPMorgan Chase Policy Center, said.

“This measure will enable companies like JPMorgan Chase, where about 10 percent of our new hires annually in the US have previous records with no bearing on their roles, continue to connect individuals to meaningful career pathways, opening doors to opportunity that transform lives, lift up communities and strengthen the economy,” Gibson said.

Sheena Meade, CEO of The Clean Slate Initiative, said that “Congress holds the power to unlock opportunities for millions of people in America by passing the Clean Slate Act.”

“The bipartisan championship of second chances demonstrates broad agreement that a past mistake should not be a life sentence to poverty,” she said. “States have led the way on second chances, and now it’s time for Congress to do its part.”

This is the latest in a string of marijuana reform bills that have been introduced in the 118th Congress.

A bill to protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses was filed in both chambers last week, and the Senate Banking Committee has already scheduled a hearing for next week where it’s expected to be taken up.

Bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers also reintroduced legislation last month to provide a safe harbor to insurance companies that work with licensed marijuana businesses.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced legislation last month to protect the Second Amendment rights of people who use marijuana in legal states, allowing them to purchase and possess firearms that they’re currently prohibited from having under federal law.

Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have filed a bill to incentive state and local marijuana expungements with a federal grant program.

Also last month, Joyce and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) filed a measure designed to prepare the federal government for marijuana legalization, directing the attorney general to form a commission to study and make recommendations about regulating cannabis in a way similar to alcohol.


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