US House Judiciary Committee Passes Criminal Justice Reform Legislation
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US House Judiciary Committee Passes Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

Lawmakers have approved a pair of bills, the Clean Slate Act and the Fresh Start Act, to help those convicted of cannabis-related crimes seal and expunge their records.

September 26, 2022

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved a pair of bills last week to help those convicted of cannabis-related crimes seal and expunge their records.

The committee, led by Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., passed the legislation Sept. 21 in a bipartisan vote, NORML reported.

The Clean Slate Act, H.R. 2864, would automatically seal many non-violent federal cannabis-related convictions and establish new criminal penalties for anyone who improperly shares information about another person’s sealed convictions, according to NORML.

The legislation does, however, include provisions that would allow some sealed convictions to appear on background checks for certain safety-sensitive jobs, according to the organization’s reporting.

The Fresh Start Act, H.R. 5651, would allocate federal funding to help states automatically expunge convictions for cannabis-related crimes and other offenses, NORML reported.

“Beyond the actual penalties incurred under law, a simple marijuana possession conviction can also carry with it a host of lifetime collateral consequences,” NORML Political Director Morgan Fox said in a public statement. “In many cases, it is the modern-day equivalent of the ‘Scarlet Letter’ and it can negatively impact a person’s ability to function and thrive in society. At a time when most Americans want to end marijuana prohibition and nearly a majority of people now reside states where cannabis is legal, it makes no sense to continue punishing adults and robbing them of the opportunity to fulfill their potential for behavior that in many cases is no longer a crime. The need for this kind of legislative assistance is even more pressing considering the racially and economically disparate nature of enforcement over the past half a century.”

The Clean Slate Act could impact more than 70 million Americans with low-level, non-violent criminal records, according to a press release from the office of Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., who introduced the legislation with Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, D-Pa.

The bill aims to remove barriers to finding employment, securing housing and accessing education by automatically sealing the records of those convicted of low-level, non-violent drug offenses after they complete their sentences, the press release states.

“Since coming to Congress, the Clean Slate Act has been one of my top priorities” Blunt Rochester said in a public statement. “With 9 in 10 landlords conducting background checks, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 universities doing the same, we know 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. I’m thrilled that, today, the Judiciary Committee decided to advance the bill through the legislative process, moving us one step closer to the Clean Slate Act becoming law. I look forward to working with my colleagues in continuing to advance this critical piece of legislation so that every American has a fair shot at education, housing, and employment.”

Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, have introduced companion legislation in the Senate, according to the press release.

Support for expunging and sealing cannabis-related crimes has also picked up steam in the form of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would provide expungements for those with cannabis offenses in addition to ending the federal prohibition of cannabis.

The MORE Act, sponsored by Nadler, cleared the House for the second time in April.

“Members of the House have shown a commitment this term to advancing cannabis reform,” Fox said. “They have repeatedly affirmed that the time has come to start repairing the harms caused by prohibition and enact modern, sensible cannabis policies that are supported by a supermajority of voters. The Senate has the opportunity to follow suit by passing substantive legislation that can change peoples’ lives for the better and facilitate immeasurable opportunities—especially in marginalized and unfairly targeted communities—but the time for them to act is quickly running out."