What is expungement? Expungement is a campaign that aims at reintegrating individuals and places that have been disenfranchised by the war on drugs by giving them access to the various services they’ve been denied through a past conviction. The National Expungement Week is an annual event that drives this grassroots campaign and puts people on the right path to sealing cannabis conviction records and giving them access to legal relief so they can be a part of the society again.
Since its inaugural event in 2018, the National Expungement Week has recorded huge success as it has put people on the path to sealing their records.
While the N.E.W. and all the organizations involved have recorded some considerable success since the initiative began, it’s important to say there is a still a long way to go. One of the important issues still to be addressed is the push for the legalization of cannabis across several states in the country. This perhaps is one of the most important issues to be addressed in the 2020 National Expungement Week which will take place between 19th and 26th of September.
Why There Is Need For Expunging Cannabis Convictions And Why Is It Important?
Currently, the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis have cut across several states in the country, and many other states are open to the idea. In spite of this, a significant percentage of our population have been denied access to a number of basic human and civil rights due to past convictions relating to the use or possession of cannabis. As a result of this unfair conviction, these individuals are unable to gain employment, are denied voting rights, and are prevented from exercising other important rights. Expunging these convictions is a necessary first step.
Expunging cannabis convictions is important because many states have permitted streamlined record reforms that make expungement easy. Before now, individuals who are convicted for cannabis-related offenses were expected to file petitions in courts of competent jurisdiction before they could obtain relief. This is not the case any longer as many states have removed the petition requirements making expungement easier and faster.
As of 2012, there were only two states that allowed adults to use marijuana for recreational purposes and they were Washington DC and Colorado. Since then, there’s been a massive improvement in marijuana laws with 33 states permitting cannabis to be used for medical purposes while 11 states have legalized it for recreational use. The challenge, however, with the increase in legalization over the last 8 years has been the issue of fairness. Though legal in some states, there is still the challenge of criminal records and jail term it has brought for those, when it was illegal.
As cannabis becomes more accessible and states push for legalization, it is imperative that we pursue for national expungement for those impacted.
Here are several organizations that are leading the charge:
Organizations Leading the Initiative (Nationally)
Equity First Alliance
Equity First Alliance is a national coalition of social justice organizations coming together to address equity issues around cannabis policies. Equity First Alliance believes that not all expungement process is equal, as some are more complex and costlier. To this group, this is not supposed to be the case. Equity First Alliance wants the legalization of cannabis to benefit everyone and that includes investors, businesses, and convicted persons. This organization played a huge role in the first N.E.W. that was organized in 2018.
Heally is a software designing organization that connects users with professionals. For example, it can connect a cannabis convict with an attorney. One of the major projects of Heally that is helping to drive the expungement of cannabis convictions is the Fresh Start Program. This program focuses on expungement provisions to ensure a more robust criminal justice reform.
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law believes it is unfair for a select population to benefit from the legalization of cannabis while others still have criminal records for cannabis. In their words, the best thing to do alongside the legalization of cannabis is to expunge cannabis convictions. To support their stance, this organization has written several letters to district attorneys across the United States, seeking the restoration of rights for Americans who have suffered the consequences of cannabis convictions.
Cage Free Repair
Cage Free Repair is an organization that pushes for an equitable and just cannabis industry. Recently, this organization just launched a campaign tagged “Show Your Love.” The essence of this campaign is to help raise funds for the upcoming National Expungement Week, 2020. It has also created a digital marketplace that provides access to users seeking legal relief for the expungement of their cannabis convictions.
Last Prisoner Project
Last Prisoner Project is a non-profit coalition of several players in the cannabis industry. This project aims to fighting criminal injustice and changing the face of drug policies. This project sees it wrong to have many individuals languish in jail for an activity that is no longer a crime while there are many other profiting handsomely for doing the same.
CODE for America
Code for America is a non-profit organization set up to ensure the government works better for the people. Its focus is on the criminal justice system as they believe it’s failing the people. To lead the way with expunging cannabis convictions, it set up the ‘Clear My Record Initiative’ which aims at ensuring governments at all levels can clear the criminal records of an individual with a cannabis conviction.
Just like everyone else, you can get involved in the National Expungement Week 2020 in several ways. Check out these organizations to learn more about how you can get involved – there is a lot you can do!