Bipartisan Cannabis Expungement Bill Introduced in Congress

Reps. Dave Joyce and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the HOPE Act to assist state and local governments in expunging cannabis convictions.

December 3, 2021 

Reps. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., introduced legislation to expunge the criminal records of tens of millions of Americans who have previously been convicted of cannabis offenses.

The Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act will appropriate $20 million to the attorney general to financially assist state and local governments with reviewing and expunging cannabis convictions.

More than 350,000 Americans were arrested by state and local law enforcement for cannabis-related offenses in 2020, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Of those arrests, 91% were charged with simple possession. State and local police have arrested an estimated 7.3 million Americans since 2010 for violating cannabis laws.

"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. "The collateral damage caused by these missed opportunities is woefully underestimated and has impacted entire families, communities, and regional economies. By helping states establish and improve expungement programs for minor cannabis offenses, the HOPE Act will pave the way for expanded economic opportunities to thrive alongside effective investments to redress the consequences of the war on drugs."

"As we continue to advocate for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, this bipartisan bill will provide localities the resources they need to expunge drug charges that continue to hold back Americans, disproportionately people of color, from employment, housing, and other opportunities," Ocasio-Cortez said.

Industry Leaders React

"This bipartisan effort represents the growing consensus to reform marijuana policies in a manner that addresses the harms inflicted by prohibition. It provides cash assistance for state and localities that are wisely choosing to remove these stigmatizing records. There is no justification for continuing to prevent tens of millions of Americans from fully participating in their community and workforce just because they bear the burden of a past marijuana conviction." - Justin Strekal, political director, NORML

"States have a key role to play alongside the federal government in addressing the harms of cannabis prohibition. We strongly support the new proposal by Reps. Dave Joyce and Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez to provide funding to states and localities to expedite expungement of nonviolent cannabis offenses. USCC is firmly committed to advancing criminal justice reform and social equity as components of comprehensive cannabis reform and legalization. We urge Congress to enact the provisions of the HOPE Act." - Steve Hawkins, CEO, U.S. Cannabis Council