Expungement As a Social Equity Enterprise in Reparative Justice

The second annual National Expungement Week asks for citizen activism to help defeat fallout from the war on drugs

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National Expungement Week – September 21

One of the featured goals of the move to legalize cannabis across the country has always been to provide access to the industry for the people most affected by the war on drugs.

An effort to achieve that goal gets underway September 21 through the following Saturday with the second annual National Expungement Week (N.E.W.) to include events in 30 major U.S. cities throughout the country that will, among other things, offer free services for people to expunge their records.

“The real point of the event is to provide community members the tools and resources about how they can clear their record and allow them to re-enter society,” Joe Gilmore, president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council and regional coordinator of N.E.W. says. “But the focus of the event is that the current expungement bills are not inclusive enough of the populations we are trying to uplift. We are calling for citizen engagement, and a strategy where we can improve these policies so that more people can qualify for expungement.”

Last year’s inaugural N.E.W. event resulted in nearly 300 people getting help with the expungement process.

One of the people sitting at a table helping get the expungement process rolling at this year’s N.E.W. will be Mauro Melgar, an auto glass specialist in Los Angeles who, up until last year’s N.E.W., had spent the last ten years of his life dealing with issues related to his felony conviction for possession of two ounces of cannabis. “There are 48,000 legal barriers against people with past convictions getting hired,” Melgar says.

Last year, he was scrolling down his Instagram page when he saw a promotion about the first N.E.W., then went to it and presented his info. “They were able to find my conviction, had me sign some paperwork and it was a really smooth process. I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “The whole process took two months. It opened the door and got me advocating for social equity and the cannabis industry and trying to get help for African Americans and Latinos in the industry who are punished for doing the same thing that people are making money off of [legally today].”

This year’s N.E.W. event comes close on the heels of the first serious step to jump-starting the expungement process through a bill in Congress, when, on July 23, presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – or MORE Act of 2019 – that was cosponsored by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), another presidential candidate.

The MORE act not only would take cannabis off the DEA schedule entirely, but end arrests for any and all federal cannabis-related offenses, retroactively stop proceedings on any offense committed or any case pending, and expunge any conviction at no cost.

The bill also proposes the creation of the Equitable Licensing Grant Program to provide jurisdictions with funds to develop and implement equitable marijuana licensing programs targeting individuals most adversely impacted by the war on drugs.

“What is vital in this time is that, as legalization efforts develop in our backyard, it’s important for the communities who have been impacted by the war on drugs to have a front seat at influencing how this system of legalization is going to play out,” Gilmore says. “If we are not at the table then we are on the menu.”

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