U.S. Department of Justice Extends Pardon Certificate Comment Deadline to August 15

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in March that it was officially opening up an online portal to make it easier than ever for those who hold low-level cannabis convictions to apply for a pardon. Now the DOJ’s Office of the Pardon Attorney published a notice on July 18 stating that the deadline has been extended until August 15.

The Office of the Pardon Attorney wrote that it is submitting a request to extend pardon applications through 2026. “DOJ seeks PRA [Paperwork Reduction Act] authorization for this information collection for three (3) years,” it stated. “OMB [Office of Management and Budget] authorization for an ICR [Information Collection Request] cannot be for more than three (3) years without renewal. The DOJ notes that information collection requirements submitted to the OMB for existing ICRs receive a month-to-month extension while they undergo review.”

“The purpose of this collection is to gather information necessary to enable the Office of the Pardon Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice to expeditiously administer the provisions of the Executive Order 10467, a proclamation granting pardons to individuals charged or convicted of simple possession of marijuana,” the notice stated. “The collection will enable individuals to apply for certificates of pardon, restoring political, civil, and other rights by implementing a process to provide certificates of pardon as provided by the order.”

The DOJ expects 20,000 people to apply for a pardon and complete the necessary information, which includes personal information (name, mailing address, email address, and citizenship status) as well as individual docket and case number, the code section for the charge, copies of all relevant documents (such as indictments, complaints, or other conviction documents), and the date the sentence was imposed.

This pardon directive was enacted by President Joe Biden in October 2022. “As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden tweeted. “Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach.”

The DOJ explained in March what makes a person eligible for a pardon. “Those who were pardoned on Oct. 6, 2022, are eligible for a certificate of pardon,” the DOJ wrote in a press release. “Consistent with the proclamation, to be eligible for a certificate, an applicant must have been charged or convicted of simple possession of marijuana in either a federal court or D.C. Superior Court, and the applicant must have been lawfully within the United States at the time of the offense.”

Following Biden’s pardon announcement, the U.S. Sentencing Commission announced that more than 1,450 people in Arizona with federal cannabis possession charges would be pardoned. The only state to receive more pardons is California, with 1,550 eligible people. However, the pardons do not affect those whose convictions include selling cannabis illegally.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are currently working on an eight-step federal cannabis scheduling review to determine if cannabis should be rescheduled under the Controlled Substances Act. However, there is no definitive deadline that marks when these agencies will complete the review. If or when it is finished however, it would be sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration for final decisions.

Recently, officials in multiple states, including Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Utah, sent data to the FDA regarding their medical cannabis programs with the intention of contributing to the review.
Federal rescheduling or descheduling cannabis could open up many opportunities for cannabis consumers and businesses. Just recently, cannabis businesses in Vermont were informed that they were not eligible for federal emergency aid, due to cannabis being a Schedule I substance, when powerful storms caused flooding throughout the state and harmed their businesses and livelihood.

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Number of Federal Cannabis Prisoners Has Decreased by 61% Over the Past Five Years

Recently the Justice Department Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that the percentage of people in federal prison for cannabis convictions has dropped 61% between 2013-2018. The data was featured in an article published on July 13, entitled “Sentencing Decisions for Persons in Federal Prison for Drug Offenses, 2013-2018.”

BJS Director Dr. Alexis Piquero explained that the decrease of people with cannabis-related convictions in prison was the most significant drop in comparison to other substances. “Although the number of people in federal prison for drug offenses decreased over this five-year span, they still accounted for a large share—almost half—of the people in [Federal Bureau of Prisons] BOP custody in 2018,” said Piquero. “At the same time, we saw differences by the type of drug involved, with more people incarcerated for heroin and methamphetamines and fewer for marijuana and cocaine.”

In the same time period, crack cocaine imprisonments dropped by 45%, powder cocaine dropped by 35%, and there was a 4% decline for those imprisoned for opioids. On the other hand, heroin has increased by 13%, and methamphetamine increased by 12%.

A large majority of people incarcerated in these prisons were labeled as trafficking convictions, and much fewer for possession. In 2013, 94,065 were in federal custody due to trafficking, but only 548 for possession or “other drug” offenses. In 2014, trafficking decreased slightly to 92,378 and possession up to 581 individuals, followed by 88,386 for trafficking and 525 for possession in 2015.

However, the most significant change occurred in 2016. Trafficking continued downward, but the number of people in federal prisons dropped to just 150 people. In 2018, only 54 people remained in prison for possession, and made up less than 0.1% of all prisoners.

The report also included a breakdown of sex, race, and ethnicity separated by drug offense by the end of 2018. For cannabis, 19.3% of prisoners were white, 18.4% were Black, 59.3% were Hispanic, 1.8% were Asian/Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and 1.3% American Indian/Alaska Native. Of these prisoners, 95.1% were male, and 4.9% were female.

There’s a clear trend with the decrease in cannabis prisoners and the growth of legalization across the U.S. between 2013-2018, although with a lack of data between 2018 to present day, it will be some time before more information can be revealed.

Other government agencies’ data contributes to the big picture. In March, the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) showed federal drug trafficking data for 2022. While the report showed that cannabis cases were decreasing, with 5,000 in 2013 to 806 in 2022, cases involving other substances such as cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine have increased.

Back in October after President Joe Biden announced he would be pardoning people with federal cannabis convictions on their record, the USSC stated that 6,577 people could possibly receive pardons. 

In March, the U.S. Justice Department finally launched its own pardon certificate application for people who want to be pardoned for low-level federal cannabis convictions. “On Oct. 6, 2022, the President announced a full, unconditional and categorical pardon for prior federal and D.C. offenses of simple possession of marijuana,” the U.S. Justice Department wrote in its announcement. “The President’s pardon lifts barriers to housing, employment and educational opportunities for thousands of people with those prior convictions. President Biden directed the Justice Department to develop a process for individuals to receive their certificate of pardon.”

Individual states have also worked on pardoning cannabis convictions over the past year. In November 2022, Oregon Gov. Kathy Brown issued nearly 5,000 pardons for minor cannabis convictions. California Gov. Gavin Newsom pardoned 10 individuals, although only two had cannabis-related convictions. By the turn of the new year, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf pardoned 2,500 people, 400 of which had nonviolent cannabis convictions on their records. 

More recently, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced that he wants to see pardons for psychedelic convictions. “So anybody who has something on their criminal record that is now legal can have that expunged and doesn’t hold them back from future employment opportunities,” Polis said at the Psychedelic Science Conference held in Denver.

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New Jersey Lawmakers File Bill Expanding Cannabis Data Collection for Cops

A New Jersey government official wants to keep track of your entire relationship with cannabis in an effort to tackle stoned driving, the New Jersey Monitor reports. Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D) wants to create a division tasked with compiling data, such as information on any arrests made for driving under the influence where cannabis is present, through use or possession, in addition to other marijuana-related arrests, dismissals, convictions, cannabis seized, and even adjudications of cannabis charges.

The reality of the dangers of driving with cannabis in one’s system is hotly debated. U.S. lawmakers are scurrying to find a way to solve the issue, whether they’re getting people stoned (and even giving them munchies) to research high driving or working on tech to scan your eyeballs, they really, really want to find a way to identify (and prosecute) anyone driving under the influence of cannabis. Never mind the fact that weed legalization in Canada is not linked to an increase in car crashes. 

Speight was inspired to tackle the problem in her home state after visiting Colorado, the first state to have legal recreational weed, in the summer of 2022 and observing how the state deals with motorists driving under the influence of cannabis. “I don’t know if they have the correct guidance on how to charge without overstepping,” Speight said. Colorado has an office under the state’s criminal justice division that monitors and logs any cannabis offenses, yet New Jersey has no similar centralized database. “When I saw what they were doing over there, I started thinking about how that would be good for our state,” she said. “I like the fact that they have a certain division handling and keeping track of these cases.”

So, New Jersey residents, you can get mad at Colorado for inspiring your state to step up its vigor regarding cannabis-related driving arrests. Speight aims to create the division to help the police know under what circumstances they can arrest someone. This means the state government will be collecting more information about its citizens, which will be presented annually to the governor and Legislature, and include any recommendations for improvements.

The bill, introduced earlier this month (sponsored by Sen. Vin Gopal (D) in the Senate), would additionally create a “public awareness campaign” about cannabis and driving. It’s currently referred to both chambers’ law and public safety committees.

In New Jersey, recreational cannabis is legal for adults 21 and over. You can possess up to six ounces. If you are caught with more than that, the cops can’t arrest you but can issue a summons. Additionally, they can’t search your car without a warrant just because they think they smell weed smoke. If a cop does overreach and investigate cannabis use for anyone under 21, they can be charged with deprivation of civil rights for knowingly violating the cannabis law’s requirements. They then face up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine. 

As a result, Speight says that she’s “troubled” by incidents where New Jersey police don’t know what to do. Many officers take a more hands-off approach to avoid getting in trouble due to the current law, and the proposed data collection-based division aims to tackle this. While the existing rules sound favorable to anyone who enjoys pot, it’s confusing police, who, without a current, accurate cannabis version of the breathalyzer, have a hard time figuring out if someone is driving stoned or not. 

“All of this gets complicated to me, but I don’t think it should be ignored. It should be addressed,” Speight adds, noting she hopes to work with both cannabis advocates and law enforcement on the bill.

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Louisiana House of Representatives Passes Cannabis Expungement Bill

The Louisiana House of Representatives recently passed a bill to improve the state’s expungement program for cannabis possession convictions. Rep. Delisha Boyd sponsored the bill, which passed with a 69-30 vote. “House Bill 286 is a request for a reduction in expungement fees in first offense marijuana. I’ve worked closely with the DA association, sheriffs, and the clerks, to put this bill in its proper posture,” Boyd said at the hearing on May 23.

The Louisiana House Democratic Caucus recently posted on social media about the bill’s passing as well. “This bill passed the House today and will make it easier for people to get the post-conviction relief and justice they need and deserve. #LaLege #LaGov.”

The bill was amended by House representatives, including the adoption of the proposed law that would only apply to 14 grams or less, and also stating that the fee would be set at a maximum of $300 for those convicted of misdemeanor offenses for cannabis possession.

According to the bill, these fees will be distributed immediately to the proper channels. “The clerk shall immediately direct the collected processing fees provided…to the sheriff and the district attorney, and the processing fee amount shall be remitted immediately upon receipt in equal proportions to the office of the district attorney and the sheriff’s general fund,” the bill states.

HB-286 is currently moving forward in the Senate. On May 24, it was read by title and placed on the calendar for a second reading, followed by a second reading on May 25 and a referral to the Committee on Judiciary C.

Another Louisiana bill was passed in a committee on May 23. According to Rep. Mandie Landry, House Bill 351 made it through the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, which is notorious for its reputation of making it difficult to pass bills through. “Nothing makes it out of the Labor Committee here,” said Landry, according to Fox8. “Not minimum wage, not employment protections…It’s really hard.” The bill strives to protect employees with medical cannabis cards by providing them with unemployment benefits if they were fired due testing positive for cannabis. 

HB-351 passed with a 6-5 vote, but the opposition voiced concern regarding the liability for employers if an employee is under the influence of cannabis while on the clock. One member said that the bill isn’t the right solution, arguing that it needs to be “very strongly vetted over a good period of time.”

Landry responded, arguing that a solution is needed now. “Medical marijuana is legal,” Landry said. “Every person has every right to question their employers or the state and say, ‘Why am I losing my job for using something that’s legal?’ This is a problem the state created.”

In April, two Sen. Stewart Cathey and Sen. Jay Morris claimed that they were misled when they voted to approve Senate Bill 219. “Last session we unknowingly created a recreational THC market in Louisiana,” Cathey said. “It was not the intent of the Legislature to authorize a statewide flood of unregulated THC psychoactive drug marketplace.”

“If we’re going to legalize [recreational THC], it needs to be done openly and honestly, which wasn’t done,” Morris explained. “It was sold to the Legislature as if we weren’t allowing psychoactive materials.” HB-351 hasn’t moved forward since Cathey and Morris made these statements.

Louisiana cannabis decriminalization went into effect along with 250 other laws in August 2021. Policy & advocacy director at Louisiana Progress, Peter Robins-Brown explained his hope for the future. “Marijuana decriminalization will truly make a difference in the lives of the people of our state,” said Robins-Brown. “It’s an important first step in modernizing marijuana policy in Louisiana, and it’s another milestone in the ongoing effort to address our incarceration crisis, which has trapped so many people in a cycle of poverty and prison. Now it’s time to make sure that everyone knows their rights under this new law, and that law enforcement officers understand how to properly implement it.”

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Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb Moves to Expunge Low-Level Cannabis Convictions

Cleveland, Ohio is speeding up the process to expunge records for low-level, misdemeanor cannabis convictions after a state bill unlocked the mayor’s power to do so. 

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, who won office at age 34 as the city’s first millennial mayor, is once again connecting with his constituents and giving them what they asked for—cannabis expungements.

“I talked to so many residents who couldn’t get a job, who couldn’t get access to a student loan, who couldn’t get access to qualify for housing because they had collateral sanctions on their record, many of which stem from low-level marijuana convictions,” Bibb said.

Grants to cover filing fees and expungement clinics are rolling out to make expungements possible. “We knew we were going to face some uphill battles in the legal system,” he said.

Bibb also advocated for Senate Bill 288, which was signed into law by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine last January. The bill helps enable the city of Cleveland to provide expungements by removing barriers that previously hindered Bibb’s attempts to expunge records even earlier.  

“We try to fight on behalf of our residents,” Bibb said.

Now that SB 288 was approved, Bibb and the city are free to take further action. The Bibb administration is working to notify eligible people with cannabis conviction records. After that, the city will file motions on behalf of those people using a $10,000 grant to help pay for filing fees related to expungement and the sealing of records. The city is working with organizations to host expungement clinics where people can file and close their cases, without going to court. 

“So now cities and counties now have legal standing to expunge those minor marijuana misdemeanors all across the state of Ohio,” Bibb said.

Spectrum News 1 reports that Bibb’s actions were applauded by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “During college, I got a firsthand look at the justice system after being arrested for simple possession,” said NORML Program Director Morgan Fox.

“I would see the people that were there that had the exact same charges me with the exact same legal history as me, but who did not look like me getting significantly larger sentences, whether it be larger fines, longer probation or in some cases even jail time, just for very simple possession of cannabis.”

Bibb’s proactive measures are an example other leaders could follow.

“I think Mayor Bibb has ever shown fantastic leadership on this issue,” Fox said. “And, you know, from a national perspective, I wish there were a lot more people like him that were leading the way on starting these programs that directly affect the communities that they have been elected to lead.”

According to the Bibb administration, 838 people have received expungements after his office coordinated with the Biden administration. The mayor announced that he had assisted with over 4,000 court cases on April 4, with the goal to seal those records. “We will continue to spread the message that the City of Cleveland stands ready to help our citizens make positive steps forward in their lives,” Mayor Bibb said at the time. 

The idea is to make the process simpler. “We understand that citizens don’t always want to engage in the criminal justice system, it’s not always user friendly. And sometimes it’s really hard for citizens to get access,” said Chief Prosecutor Aqueelah Jordan. “We can, as a city, do this on behalf of these residents who have been negatively impacted by historical inequities.” 

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House Lawmakers Reintroduce Bipartisan Cannabis Expungement Bill

Two House lawmakers this week reintroduced bipartisan legislation to support states that enact policies to expunge convictions for past cannabis offenses. The bill, the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, was introduced on Wednesday by Republican Representative Dave Joyce of Ohio and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York.

If passed, the HOPE Act would provide federal grants to help states with the financial and administrative burden of expunging past convictions for marijuana-related offenses. The bill was previously introduced in 2021 but failed to be scheduled for a hearing or a vote in the previous Congress. The lawmakers behind the bill, who have been vocal advocates of cannabis policy reform at the federal level, said that expunging records can help reduce the lasting impact of a conviction for a minor criminal offense.

“The vast majority of petty, non-violent cannabis law violations take place on the state and local level, precluding millions of Americans from fundamental opportunities such as housing and employment,” Joyce said in a statement. “As both a former public defender and prosecutor, I understand firsthand how these barriers can negatively impact families and economic growth in Ohio and across the nation. The HOPE Act works to remove those barriers in a bipartisan manner to pave the way for the American Dream and remedy the unjust war on cannabis.

The legislation would provide up to $20 million in federal grants over 10 years to state and local governments to clear records of past marijuana convictions. Funding could be used to implement technology to clear large amounts of records automatically, clinics to assist individuals eligible for expungement, notification systems to inform people when their records have been cleared, administrative costs to seal records, and partnerships to assist with expunge records at scale.

“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 opportunity,” said Ocasio-Cortez.

Brian Vicente, founding partner of the cannabis law firm Vicente LLP, said that the legislation complements an executive order issued by President Joseph Biden last year that pardoned all federal convictions for simple cannabis possession. At the time, the president called on governors to take similar action at the state level and wrote on Twitter that “Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives — for conduct that is legal in many states.”

“The HOPE Act is true to its name. Its reintroduction by the ‘odd-couple’ of liberal Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and conservative Rep. Joyce shows the world that bipartisan support for marijuana reform exists at the highest level of government,” Vicente wrote in an email to High Times. “It reinforces the fact that key members of Congress agree with the majority of the American public—adults who use marijuana should not face criminal sanctions. This bill would put some real teeth behind President Biden’s 2022 declared interest in pardoning people with federal marijuana convictions by providing significant funding to state programs to expunge state-level marijuana offenses.”

The reintroduction of the HOPE Act drew quick praise from activists and cannabis industry representatives including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the National Cannabis Roundtable, a trade group that advocates for continued cannabis policy reform.

“The HOPE Act promises just that: hope and a second chance for people suffering the lifelong consequences of a state-level marijuana possession arrest,” NORML political director Morgan Fox said in a statement. “As more states repeal their failed policies of criminalizing marijuana consumers, it is incumbent upon Congress to assist them in repairing the associated harms it helped perpetuate for decades. This legislation is a great step toward righting the wrongs caused by prohibition and improving the lives of millions of people nationwide.”

Saphira Galoob, executive director of the National Cannabis Roundtable, said that “only through expungements can we lift the barriers on employment, education, and housing opportunities for those who have already been unjustly harmed by federal prohibition. With cannabis programs now in 38 states, to continue to hold back and punish individuals for what is now a state-legal activity is the definition of unjust, and NCR thanks U.S. Representatives Joyce and Ocasio-Cortez for their efforts to have Congress help correct these wrongs at long last.”

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Cannabis Expungement Law Takes Effect in D.C.

The measure that was approved by the Council of the District of Columbia late last year mandates an “automatic sealing for non-dangerous, non-convictions as well as shorten the waiting periods before a person is eligible to seal their record,” and “would also expand the eligibility of who can seal their record.” The bill was signed by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in January, but its enactment was delayed due to an arcane part of lawmaking in our nation’s capital. 

Laws in D.C. are subject to congressional oversight and approval––a stipulation that has prevented the district from implementing legal marijuana sales, despite the fact that voters there legalized cannabis back in 2014.

After Bowser signed the cannabis expungement measure in January, the bill was transmitted to Congress. As NORML explained, all “legislation must undergo a 30-day Congressional review prior to becoming law,” and absent a Congressional intervention, the bill will then become law.

That moment is now––or rather, on March 10, when the law officially took effect.

NORML has more on the new law:

“The Act provides for the automatic review and expungement of any convictions or citations specific to marijuana-related offenses that have subsequently been decriminalized or legalized in the District of Columbia, as well as any ‘records related only to simple possession for any quantity of marijuana in violation of D.C. Code § 48-904.01(d)(1) before February 15, 2015.’ It requires all cannabis-specific expungements to be processed by the courts by January 1, 2025.”

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, hailed the new law.

“Thousands of DC residents unduly carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that District lawmakers, most Americans, and a growing number of states, no longer consider to be a crime,” Armenato said. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”

In 2021, it appeared that legal cannabis sales might finally be coming to Washington, D.C.

That’s because Senate Democrats at the time introduced a draft of an appropriations bill that did not include the so-called “Harris Rider,” a budget rider named for Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland that had appeared in every such bill since 2014.

The Harris Rider has precluded Washington, D.C. from engaging in legal commercial marijuana sales. 

At the time, Bowser celebrated the rider’s apparent exclusion from the proposed bill.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said at the time. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing D.C. to spend our local funds as we see fit.”

Activist groups pressured Democrats in Congress to hold firm and ditch the Harris Rider.

“In one hand, Congress continues to make strides in advancing federal marijuana reform grounded in racial justice, while simultaneously being responsible for prohibiting the very jurisdiction that led the country in legalizing marijuana through this lens from being able to regulate it. This conflict and contradiction must end now,” Queen Adesuyi, Senior National Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement last year.

But it was not to be.

The appropriations bill that ultimately emerged last year included the Harris Rider.

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M-1 of dead prez Discusses Criminal Justice Reform, Last Prisoner Project Benefit Concert

People remain behind bars for cannabis-related convictions despite the abundance of legalization and decriminalization measures that roll out in the U.S. Rather than be apathetic about cannabis prisoners, it’s time to do something about it.

Keep Austin Weed is partnering with cannabis criminal justice reform nonprofit Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and pioneering hip-hop group dead prez. LPP focuses on three key criminal justice reform initiatives: prisoner release, cannabis record clearance, and reentry support. 

Dead prez will be performing at a benefit concert for LPP on March 13 from 6-10 p.m. at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during the South by Southwest (SXSW) tech, film, music, education, and culture festival in Austin, Texas. The Far Out Lounge & Stage provides more information about the event Let’s Get Free on the website.

The event marks the appointment of Mutulu Olugbala, aka M-1, of dead prez, to LPP’s Board of Directors. He’ll be joining cannabis industry leaders, executives, and activists who are committed to supporting LPP’s mission to free cannabis prisoners who still remain behind bars.

There will be a performance by dead prez along with special guests, including Blindspotting creators Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), both of whom appear in the original 2018 film.

Arrests Continue

According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, state and local law enforcement agencies reported 170,856 arrests for cannabis possession in 2021, slightly down from over 226,000 in 2020. And Texas was home to the highest number of arrests, with over 60,000 arrests.

Despite all of the decriminalization measures, including Texas’s city-level decriminalization measures, the arrests continue, and people remain behind bars for outdated laws. LPP estimates at least 40,000 remain incarcerated in the U.S. for crimes involving cannabis. 

“Indeed this is fundamentally wrong,” M-1 tells High Times. “It’s plain to see that the U.S. agenda of mass incarceration is still their priority. This is glaring due to the changed public perception and recent decriminalization of cannabis. These contradictions expose the depth of injustice in this country as the undeniable power of plant medicine continues to grow.”

The mixed messages we get from the government aren’t going to work. 

That’s one of the reasons M-1 agreed to join Last Prisoner Project’s Board of Directors.

“The Last Prisoner Project has done tremendous work fighting for the justice and freedom of cannabis prisoners which completely aligns with work I have been doing as a revolutionary cultural worker. I’m excited to be seated on this board and bring my years of experience and resources to this mission,” M-1 says. “LPP is the counterbalance to a growing cannabis industry which should be celebrating this legacy and people who paid the price to push our culture forward.”

Courtesy Last Prisoner Project

Get Political with dead prez

Check out LPP’s latest Pardons To Progress campaign that puts pressure on local governors to use their clemency power to release those incarcerated for cannabis offenses on the state level if you want to get involved, M-1 says.

If you’ve been listening to dead prez for the past two decades, the group has adopted a strong political tone since day one. 

“Since everything is political in my opinion, we have to hold this government and present administration to their promise to release cannabis prisoners,” M-1 says. “It’s imperative that we engage in this fight in every circle we may find ourselves in as most of us have been affected by the unfair imprisonment of so many of our family and community. I have been fortunate to use music and culture and tools to spread our word and raise our platforms.” 

Let’s Get Free Concert hosted by Keep Austin Weed takes place in Austin where voters decriminalized cannabis, along with a handful of other cities in Texas. The next step is anyone’s best guess.

“Abolishing prohibition in Texas (and nationally) would be a tremendous victory for our populace. The economic benefit alone would literally be reparations to all of us who have been impacted negatively by this outdated legal system,” M-1 says. “Dead prez will be shouting this message from the stage along with some special guests at the Far Out Lounge in Austin. With a global spotlight on Texas during that time, LPP will have a great opportunity to gain more support.”

Cannabis Prisoners

Richard DeLisi served 32 years of a 99-year sentence for a nonviolent crime. He was released from prison on Dec. 8, 2020. But during his time in prison, DeLisi’s wife and other family members passed away. His daughter was paralyzed, and he missed many memories. At age 71, he was released from prison in Florida, making him the longest-serving, nonviolent cannabis prisoner in the U.S. People like DeLisi deserve to have an early hand in legal cannabis, probably more than anyone.

“First of all—free all cannabis prisoners!” M-1 says. “Welcome home to Mr. DeLisi and I’m so happy to be sharing a space with him to call for more people like him to get what they deserve… Justice!! The Legacy Operators should be the fashioners of what the transition to legal cannabis should look like in order to avoid the bureaucracy that has happened in other states that are attempting to build competent weed policies. Richard DeLisi has a legal cannabis brand named DeLisioso and they are actually the presenting sponsor of the concert.”

Police brutality and general overreach continues to overlap with outdated cannabis laws. In Denton, Texas, for instance, cannabis was decriminalized, but city management and police chose to arrest people anyways.

“I have endured the traumatic experience of law enforcement harassment many times,” M-1 says. “Part of what must be done is to deal with mental health challenges that have arisen around our colonial relationship to the police. I represent a generation of people who have been persecuted for recognizing cannabis as a wellness.”

Join dead prez March 13 at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during SXSW in Austin.

“We will right these wrongs, M-1 says. “Free ‘em All!!

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Justice Department Launches Expungement Application

The time is now to expedite the process and get proof of pardon for low-level federal cannabis convictions that no longer stand today yet still haunt individuals, sometimes decades later. According to a March 3 announcement, the U.S. Department of Justice is launching the application to make the expungement process easier for people with low-level federal cannabis convictions. 

For people who are interested, you’ll need to gather personal details like name, mailing address, email address, and citizenship status. You’ll also need to know the docket or case number and the code section that was charged, and provide copies of documentation, such as charging documents (indictment, complaint, or criminal information) or conviction documents. It’s also important to know the exact date the sentence was imposed.

Pardons for low-level cannabis convictions were promised by President Joe Biden last October.

“Today, the Justice Department is launching an application for eligible individuals to receive certificate of proof that they were pardoned under the Oct. 6, 2022, proclamation by President Biden,” the department wrote on March 3. 

“On Oct. 6, 2022, the President announced a full, unconditional and categorical pardon for prior federal and D.C. offenses of simple possession of marijuana. The President’s pardon lifts barriers to housing, employment and educational opportunities for thousands of people with those prior convictions. President Biden directed the Justice Department to develop a process for individuals to receive their certificate of pardon.”

The Application for Certificate of Pardon will be available on the Office of the Pardon Attorney’s website. People with eligible cases may submit documentation to the Office of the Pardon Attorney and receive a certificate indicating the person was pardoned on Oct. 6, 2022, for simple possession of cannabis.

The President’s pardon can assist pardoned cases by removing civil or legal penalties such as restrictions on the right to vote, to hold office, or to sit on a jury.

The process makes getting proof of pardon quite a bit easier for people seeking to obtain licenses, bonds, or employment. President Biden said last October that the point of pardoning low-level cannabis convictions is to “help relieve the consequences arising from these convictions.” 

In order to be eligible for a certificate, an applicant must have been charged or convicted of simple possession of cannabis in either a federal court or D.C. Superior Court, and the applicant must have legally resided the United States at the time of the offense. In addition, an individual must have been a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident on Oct. 6, 2022.

Those who were convicted of state-level cannabis offenses do not qualify for the pardon.

In a historic move on October 6, 2022, Biden announced that he will pardon people with federal convictions for simple possession of cannabis, and announced that he will direct the U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to begin the process of reviewing the classification of cannabis at the federal level.

The White House statement noted that under current federal law, cannabis falls under Schedule I alongside deadly drugs like fentanyl. The White House will  “review expeditiously” the plant’s current classification.

“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden tweeted. “Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.”

For more information about determining eligibility and to find answers to frequently asked questions, visit Presidential Proclamation on Marijuana Possession.

The post Justice Department Launches Expungement Application appeared first on High Times.

Alaska Courts Clear Past Cannabis Convictions From State Database

The Alaska Supreme Court will clear the records of about 750 cannabis convictions from a state database in a move to help protect past offenders from the negative impact of a criminal record for conduct that’s no longer against the law. Under an order signed by the court’s five justices in January, records of past marijuana offenses will be removed from Courtview, the state’s online database of court cases, on May 1.

The court’s action continues the push to expunge convictions for cannabis-related offenses in states that have legalized marijuana in an attempt to mitigate the harms caused by years of cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs. The order applies to cases in which the defendant was at least 21 years old, and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis was the only charge.

Legislative attempts by lawmakers to remove cannabis convictions from Courtview have so far been unsuccessful, although bills are pending for the current legislative session. The action by the Supreme Court largely accomplishes the goal, but the new policy doesn’t remove the records of cannabis-related convictions from all state databases. Attorney Jana Weltzin said the move is a positive development for cannabis policy reform efforts in Alaska.

“If you’re older than 21 and you violated simple marijuana possession—meaning marijuana under an ounce—and you had it on your person, and it’s not connected with any other crime, then the Supreme Court of Alaska says we’re removing those from Courtview,” Weltzin told local media.

Nancy Meade, general counsel for the Alaska Court System, said that the change originated with administrative staff and was considered by the justices through the Supreme Court’s normal procedures.

“Given that (cannabis) has been legal for eight years, it appeared to the Supreme Court that this was an appropriate time not to have people, as I say, suffer the negative consequences that can stem from having your name posted on Courtview,” Meade said in a statement quoted by the Alaska Beacon. “Because the conduct is considered legal right now,” she said.

Court’s Order Doesn’t Affect All Conviction Records

The decision by the Supreme Court doesn’t expunge past cannabis convictions from the state’s criminal records, which are maintained by the Alaska Department of Public Safety (DPS). Officials clarified that information on such convictions would still be available at courthouses for inspection by members of the public and through formal background checks.

“The court system isn’t the official criminal record repository for the state of Alaska,” Meade said.

Records of arrests and convictions can have an impact on the ability of past offenders to secure employment and housing. But past legislative efforts to remove cannabis conviction records from Courtview haven’t been approved by lawmakers.

“A lot of folks in my district, they have these barriers that are put in place, and a simple rule change, policy change, legislation, could change it for their entire lives,” said Republican state Rep. Stanley Wright.

Last year, the Alaska House of Representatives approved a bill to conceal cannabis convictions from Courtview and criminal background searches by a vote of 30-8. The state Senate, however, failed to pass the bill before the end of the 2022 legislative session. A similar bill to shield cannabis convictions was pre-filed for the 2023 session by Wright on January 19, less than two weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision to remove the records from Courtview. Forrest Wolfe, Wright’s chief of staff, said that shielding the records of cannabis convictions can help mitigate the exodus of working-age people in Alaska that has in part led to a labor shortage in the state.

“It’s all about reducing barriers to entry, especially for employment,” Wolfe said. “In Alaska, we have a huge workforce shortage. If you were 21 years old or older, and it was some sort of a nonviolent crime, you were charged with and convicted of, now that cannabis is legal in the state, we don’t think it should be reflected negatively on your record,” Wolfe added.

Wright is reportedly considering whether his bill, which already has bipartisan support from three Democrats and two independent lawmakers, is still needed after the Supreme Court order to remove cannabis convictions from Courtview, while Democratic Sen. Löki Tobin is reportedly considering introducing a similar bill. Unlike the Supreme Court’s policy, which only covers court records, more comprehensive legislation could also protect information on cannabis convictions from being released through criminal background checks. If Wright’s bill is passed, up to 8,500 past cannabis convictions could be affected and hidden from view, according to information from the DPS.

The Alaska Supreme Court has a history of handing down decisions that have protected the rights of cannabis users. In 1975, the court ruled that the right to privacy guaranteed in the Alaska Constitution protects the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana in private residences, effectively legalizing cannabis for personal use.

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