There’s good news for people that have been convicted of a marijuana possession crime as the second chance amendment act approved in Washington, D.C. This means that anyone who was charged with marijuana possession before the District enacted a limited cannabis legalization law in 2014 will have it expunged from their record.
The Second Chance Amendment Act approved in a unanimous vote of 13-0 on Tuesday and was then sent to Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia.
The Second Chance Amendment Act Approved: Why Quantity Matters
Before the second chance amendment act approved, an amendment from Councilmember Christina Henderson was adopted which clarified the language of the expungement. It specified that possession of “any quantity of marijuana” would be automatically expunged from criminal records for crimes that took place before the legalization law took effect in February of 2015.
In 2015, D.C. legalized possession of up to two ounces of cannabis. But court records don’t always reflect the amount of cannabis the person was holding. Henderson introduced the amendment so that all records would be expunged regardless of the quantity to get around any possible loopholes.
“Including all simple possession rather than just possession of 2 ounces or less, clarifies the intent and allows the court and litigants to better implement the law,” the amendment states.
Other Provisions of the Second Chance Amendment Act Approved
The amendment Henderson introduced alongside the second chance amendment act approved contains the following additional language.
“The Court shall order automatic expungement of all criminal records and court proceedings related only to citations, arrests, charges or convictions for the commission of a criminal offense that has subsequently been decriminalized, legalized, or held to be unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia or the Supreme Court of the United States, or records related only to simple possession for any quantity of marijuana in violation of D.C. code 48-904.01 (1) before February 15. 2015.”
The expungements would need to be processed by Jan. 1, 2025, or “within 90 days after the termination of the case by the prosecutor or final disposition, whichever is later.”
The Second Chance Amendment Act approved brings changes to the bill that previously stated that the court, “shall order expungements of all criminal records and court proceedings related only to citations, arrests, charges, or convictions for the commission of a criminal offense that has subsequently been decriminalized, legalized, or held to be unconstitutional.”
Other Marijuana Legislation
The second chance amendment act approved the same day the District Council unanimously approved another bill which made several changes to the D.C.’s medical marijuana program. Provisions included an elimination of cannabis business licensing caps, tax relief to cannabis business operators, the promotion of social equity in the industry and the introduction of new regulated business categories like cannabis cooking classes and on-site consumption facilities.
It also gave officials more power in cracking down on illegally operated facilities. It enacted a policy that allowed adults to self-certify as marijuana patients. It also opened doors for “gifting” operators that sell non-cannabis items in exchange for marijuana products to become licensed. The gifting market has become more popular in the absence of regulated markets.
Other legislation includes a bill the mayor signed in July that prevents most workplaces from firing or punishing workers for marijuana use. It builds on previous legal measures taken to protect local government employees from workplace discrimination based on cannabis use.
It’s Not always Bright and Sunny in D.C.
However, not all efforts to make cannabis more widely accepted have been successful. For example, advocates had been pushing to end a federal blockade that has prevented D.C. from establishing a regulated market in the state.
Unfortunately, that effort was not approved to the 2023 Fiscal Year as a final spending deal was unveiled early on Tuesday morning keeping the rider in place even though it had been omitted from the State and House versions earlier this year.
D.C. Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton told the press that she was “really disappointed” that the rider was not removed by Democratic House and Senate majorities.
Norton also called on President Joe Biden, who pardoned Americans who’ve been charged with marijuana related crimes, to take it a step further by legalizing cannabis on a federal level and allowing the district to establish a commercial cannabis market and to grant clemency on its own.
The congresswoman further stated that the rider, which was maintained in Biden’s first two budget proposals represented, “a shocking violation of D.C. home rule by a Democratic administration.”
A September poll showed that there is strong support for marijuana as well as cannabis gifting among D.C. voters.
Norton, Mayor Bowser, and other D.C. elected officials have criticized Congress for depriving the district of its ability to grow their markets as other states have done without federal interference.
The councilwoman told press that she felt “fairly optimistic” that the rider would not be included in the final spending package. She also stated that the D.C. self-certification package would serve as an “effective workaround” until the rider was eliminated.
Why is the Second Chance Amendment Act Approved Important?
The second chance amendment act is important because it further pushes for the decriminalization of marijuana. Marijuana decriminalization is gaining support as it will save the government a huge amount of money that is typically spent to enforce such laws.
It also eliminates stigmas on people that have previously been accused of marijuana related crimes. It allows those people to continue to find housing and employment without being haunted by a criminal record. It keeps them from committing more serious crimes because they feel it’s the only way they can survive.
The second chance amendment act approved is an important step in cannabis decriminalization. It is hopeful that the government continues moving in a positive trajectory so people can freely indulge to improve general wellbeing.