Usually when we talk about cannabis legalization, we look forward. We ask how long before a state goes legal or how big the industry might become. But for millions of Americans, the most impactful consequences of US drug policy have already happened: They’ve been arrested on substance-related charges, sat in jail, then tried as best they could to get on with their lives.
This week, events across the country will attempt to reduce the ongoing obstacles faced by people with past criminal convictions, whether cannabis-related or not. It’s the second annual National Expungement Week, aimed at offering expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with criminal records.
“Too many people are locked up in this country, and far too many people are still locked out of society long after they’ve completed their sentence,” said Torie Marshall, director of programs at Cage-Free Repair, the nonprofit arm of Cage-Free Cannabis, which aims to repair the harms of the drug war. “This week offers a way to provide legal relief and wraparound services to justice-impacted people and their families while calling for automated expungement.”
And here’s Seth Rogan, comedian and co-founder of Canadian cannabis company Houseplant, discussing the importance of expungement:
Cage-Free Repair, Houseplant, and more than 40 other organizations have teamed up to offer education and events in cities across the country to help people erase old criminal records. Past convictions can stand in the way of individuals’ access to education, housing, employment, and public services. And in the case of cannabis, they overwhelmingly impact black Americans and other people of color, who are arrested disproportionately despite data showing they’re no more likely than others to break the law.
There’s no single process for expunging a criminal record. It varies state by state. In a few jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis, erasing or sealing old convictions is done automatically, but it usually involves a complicated and sometimes costly process. Expungement Week events are designed to connect people with legal resources to help that process go as smoothly as possible.