In this exciting age where cannabis legalization is sweeping through the United States, it’s easy for most to keep their eyes on the horizon of what’s to come. It’s the turn of the tide advocates fought decades for, and although nationwide legalization hasn’t yet taken hold, it will likely take place during our lifetime. Legal cannabis sales are in the billions and the industry continues to open up hundreds of thousands of job opportunities — for those who can legally participate.
The future looks promising. There’s virtually unlimited lucrative potential available. However — there’s a crucial and widespread disparity the industry must address. The American Civil Liberties Union reports over seven million people received a criminal charge related to cannabis from 2001 to 2010. That doesn’t include the millions of others affected since the enactment of the “war on drugs” by President Nixon in 1971 to the arrests still happening today.
The “F” Word
A criminal record has disastrous, lasting effects that restrict one’s access to housing, employment, education, public assistance and voting rights. Lawyer fees, time served and the negative stigma associated with a record continue to perpetuate the difficult circumstances created by the arrest. While investors and businesses continue to profit from the legal industry, those with a felony or record remain excluded from the same opportunities.
Many states with legalized cannabis place restrictions on felons or even those with a misdemeanor that prevent them from applying for cannabis business licenses or industry employment badge/credentials. (For restrictions by state, see page 8 of Criminal Conviction Restrictions for Marijuana Licensing.) When we hear the word “felon,” many assume the individual committed a crime that was violent in nature or involved large amounts of cannabis. However, this isn’t always the case. In Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and a few other states, the simple possession of less than one gram of hash or concentrates is a felony. In Arizona, any possession of any amount of cannabis is a guaranteed felony, including first offenders.
Imagine receiving a felony for possessing a cannabis vape pen while states nationwide are showing profits in the millions for the exact same product. In addition to the maddening frustration one must feel for this massive disparity, individuals with a felony (or in some cases, a misdemeanor) can’t participate in the cannabis industry in many states. Record expungement of non-violent cannabis-related crimes and a governmental reconsideration of criminal restrictions for entry into the cannabis industry are critical life-changing steps for those unjustly affected by prohibition.
A Fresh Start
While some local governments like the city of San Francisco and the state of Illinois implemented an automated expungement process for cannabis-related crimes, most state governments still require individuals to follow the lengthy, costly and often confusing court expungement process manually. For some, the daunting and expensive task of hiring a lawyer to assist in the process prevents the individual from pursuing the expungement process in the first place.
Recognizing the vital need for accessible lawyer services, the Equity First Alliance organized National Expungement Week. This week-long event brings free legal expungement services to cities nationwide. The second annual National Expungement Week takes place September 21 – 28 across 28 U.S. cities including major hubs like Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C.
National Expungement Week hosts a variety of services related to restoring rights and uplifting communities. The services available during the week vary by location, but all cities focus on providing free lawyer expungement services. In addition, various cities plan to provide voter registration, resume workshops, access to employment opportunities, immigration services, public benefits education and more.
Join Us at these Upcoming Events
In Denver, Vangst joins the National Expungement Week on September 21 from 10 am – 2 pm to provide access to cannabis jobs opportunities. The Denver event is set to take place at Cross Purpose at 3050 Richard Allen Court. Denver’s National Expungement Week will focus on criminal record sealing, voter registration and providing access to job opportunities in the industry.
In addition, we’ll provide expungement services at our upcoming San Francisco Career Fair on September 21. We’ll have lawyers on-site from 10 – 11:30 a.m. that will assist in the process. Can’t make it then? You can set up an appointment at our Career Fair for later expungement support.
We’re looking forward to uplifting the lives of those affected during National Expungement Week by providing resources and guidance on how to work in the cannabis industry. Until the federal government implements a nationwide reversal of cannabis charges (which, unfortunately, is wishful thinking), it’s up to cannabis industry businesses to speak up and support the efforts of local governments to rectify the damage caused by cannabis prohibition. If you’re interested in learning more about National Expungement Week, you can visit their website here. Want to get involved or learn more about social equity? Join us in the fight to make it right or check out Cage Free Cannabis and Equity First Alliance, two great social equity organizations!