This week marked the launch of the first ever National Expungement Week, where, in cities across the country, Americans are trying to leave their past behind them. According to FBI crime statistics, just last year nearly 1.4 million Americans were arrested for drug possession, and 600,000 of those were for marijuana. Of the remaining drug arrests for sale or manufacture, 60,000 were for selling or making cannabis.
Because so many states’ cannabis programs bar anyone with a criminal convictions from participating, many experienced hands at cannabis growing are frozen out of participating in the industry by decades of drug war records. Some states have attempted to account for this by making provision for those with minor, non-violent drug offenses to participate, but this compromise system still has a lot of cracks for people to fall through.
Another angle that advocates are taking is to offer an avenue for those with minor drug convictions, many of which are no longer even illegal in the state they live, a chance to get a clean slate. That’s where events like National Expungement week come in.
Tamar Todd, director of the Office of Legal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance says that the onus still largely falls on individuals to deal with the paperwork. “While a number of states, including Oregon, Colorado and Massachusetts, are allowing people with prior cannabis arrests and convictions to seal and expunge their records, California just recently became the first state to ease the burden on individuals by making those retroactive changes automatically,” he said. “This will enable thousands more people to move forward with their lives and to seek new employment and business opportunities, in the cannabis industry and elsewhere.”
First, however, would-be applicants have to be aware that the opportunity exists, which is why organizations like the Equity First Alliance, the Drug Policy Alliance, California Cannabis Advocates, Smart Pharm Research Group and Cage-Free Cannabis are all participating in the event.
The push to legalize cannabis has sparked a national discussion of how American drug policy enforcement has disproportionately affected non-white communities. Many have advocated for public policies that address this statistical and economic reality by offering an avenue for disenfranchised minorities.
The path of expungement offers another avenue for this quest for equity. For the many black and hispanic men and women with past drug offenses who’ve served their time, this offers a path to gainful, even prosperous employment in a burgeoning industry. For the many employers seeking skilled help, it offers a fresh, experience workforce. With incentives that strong, expungement week is likely here to stay.