A coalition of more than 20 organizations is in the midst of National Expungement Week, sponsoring events in cities across the country to help the 77 million Americans with past criminal convictions clear their records. Those attending the events will receive legal help with expunging, sealing, or reducing criminal convictions. National Expungement Week events are being held October 20 through 27 in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
As cannabis is legalized in more jurisdictions across the United States, many past offenders are burdened with criminal convictions for activities that are no longer against the law. Adam Vine of Cage Free Cannabis and the Equity First Alliance told High Times via email how convictions for even low-level offenses such as possession and sales of small quantities of marijuana can result in lifetime consequences.
“A criminal record can restrict access to employment, housing, education, voting rights, and social services,” Vine said. “These collateral consequences prevent people from fully re-entering their communities after incarceration, which is why expungement is both necessary and urgent.”
Vine also noted that assistance with other social services will be available at National Expungement Week clinics.
“In addition to legal services, these events are offering job fairs, resume workshops, voter registration, immigration advice, and additional resources for veterans and families with incarcerated loved ones,” said Vine. “Each event is different.”
Vine added that help is also available for those with convictions besides cannabis offenses.
“Legal services are limited only by state law, which typically restricts post-conviction relief to people with non-violent records,” he said. “All people with all types of offenses are welcome, however, and if a state (or Washington DC) allows it to be expunged, sealed, or reclassified, our events will help people do that for free.”
Earlier this month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation designed to simplify the expungement process for those with marijuana convictions in his state. Sonia Erika, a spokesperson for the Equity First Alliance, applauded the action by Brown and the California legislature.
“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, [which] will enable thousands of more people to move forward with their lives and to seek new employment and business opportunities in the cannabis industry and elsewhere.”
Erika also said that changing cannabis laws should be applied retroactively.
“Now that the plant is becoming legal, those who have gone to jail should be able to clear their record,” Erika said. “The process for changing one’s record varies wildly state-by-state, but the need is universal.”
Erika added that the sponsoring organizations hoped that pooling their efforts would help rectify some of the harm caused by the prohibition of cannabis.
“Considering America’s history of the war on drugs, the cannabis industry must bring justice and shared profits,” said Erika. “As these expungement events become more common, we wanted to coordinate them to highlight the need for widespread and automated legal relief.”
More information about National Expungement Week events is available at www.offtherecord.us.
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