A bipartisan coalition in Congress wants to give a second chance to Americans arrested for nonviolent federal crimes related to possession of marijuana.
Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a liberal Democrat from Delaware, and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a conservative Republican from Western Pennsylvania on Monday re-introduced the Clean Slate Act. If passed, the bill would automatically seal the federal criminal records of people arrested for minor federal cannabis offenses.
H.R. 2348 is modeled on a similar first-of-its-kind law enacted by Pennsylvania last year, which allows residents with nonviolent misdemeanor convictions to have their records sealed if they have stayed out of trouble for 10 years.
“The Clean Slate Act would ensure that people who pay their debt to society and stay on the straight and narrow can earn a second shot at a better life,” Blunt Rochester said in a statement. “If enacted, this legislation would make meaningful strides in filling the 7.1 million unfilled jobs in our country and improve the everyday lives of 100 million Americans who have past records.”
In Pennsylvania, about a third of working-age citizens have a criminal record, said Reschenthaler, a former district judge who is a current member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“Although many of these are the result of low-level, nonviolent offenses, criminal records can present a significant obstacle to employment, housing, and education,” Reschenthaler said. “If our goal is to reduce recidivism and improve the lives of millions of Americans, we cannot allow hardworking and reformed citizens to be defined by their worst mistakes in life. ... [T]hey are locked out of the American Dream.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) is working on a Senate companion bill and is seeking a Republican co-sponsor.
The House bill already has garnered the support of the liberal Center for American Progress, the libertarian group FreedomWorks, and the American Conservative Union Foundation.
According to the Center for American Progress, about nine in 10 employers, four in five landlords, and three in five colleges use background check systems, which can result in a minor arrests leading to hobbled opportunities.
Some advocates believe that the law would not go far enough, however, and call for a complete erasure of minor nonviolent crimes from records.
When a record is only sealed, “the data is always there,” said Chris Goldstein, a spokesperson for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “The data can get mishandled or misappropriated. Unless it is expunged, it can always come back to bite you.”
A spokesperson for Blunt Rochester said there is a good reason the bill doesn’t call for a total erasure of the record.
“We wanted the opportunity for law enforcement and Homeland Security to have access to the files and be able to see them in their entirety,” Kyle Morse said. “We wanted to assure them that they wouldn’t lose access.”