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Rosen introduces bill to federally fund automating cannabis record sealing at state level

Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed a similar bill from the Nevada Legislature.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced a bill today to create a federal grant program to fund the expunging or sealing of state-level cannabis offenses — using federal dollars to achieve a goal of legislative Democrats who passed a similar bill in 2023 but were stymied by Gov. Joe Lombardo's (R) veto pen.

The Harnessing Opportunity by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act has been introduced by a bipartisan group of House members in two straight Congresses that includes sponsors as ideologically diverse as democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and practical Republican Rep. David Joyce (R-OH). 

By introducing the HOPE Act in the Senate, Rosen — the sole sponsor — is hoping that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will include the bill in an expected cannabis reform package centered around banking that members of Congress and industry leaders are making a renewed push for this month, in honor of marijuana holiday 4/20. 

Schumer confirmed his interest in including the HOPE Act at a press briefing Wednesday, according to Marijuana Moment.

The bill would create a federal grant program for states and localities to take on the administrative work of expunging or sealing criminal records related to low-level marijuana crime in states where the drug is now legal or decriminalized, with the goal of easing the burdens that those with cannabis offenses on their records face in finding housing and employment. 

That burden disproportionately falls on Black Americans — an American Civil Liberties Union study found that despite using the drug at similar rates, Black people were three times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis-related offenses.

The HOPE Act would fund several potential ways to streamline record expungements and sealings, including automating sealing systems, partnering with legal funds or other outside organizations or acquiring technology. States or localities that accept the grants would be required to publish the relevant information for those looking to have their records expunged or sealed in an easily accessible place, including those now living in a different place than where they were convicted.

The bill would essentially supersede Lombardo’s veto of the proposed state program by offering federal funds, and allowing localities — such as Clark County, where Commissioner Tick Segerblom led the state effort to seal records at scale — to apply in states where their governors may not seek out grant funding.

Currently in Nevada, people with nonviolent cannabis offenses looking for relief must petition a judge and then have the record manually sealed separately in each jurisdiction throughout the state, if successful. Cannabis has been legalized and regulated in the state since 2017 as the result of a ballot initiative, which Rosen noted in a statement.

“Many Nevadans are still dealing with the effects of past low-level marijuana offenses,” she said. “Having a record for something that is now legal in our state threatens Nevadans’ ability to get a job, apply for housing and contribute to our state’s economy.”

Over 15,000 Nevadans were convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors between 1986 and 2017. 

The grants would be administered through the Justice Department and be funded at $2 million per year through 2033.

The bill is supported by a number of Nevada-based and national organizations advocating for cannabis legalization and clemency, including the UNLV Cannabis Policy Institute, the Nevada Cannabis Association, the National Cannabis Roundtable and the Last Prisoner Project, as well as right-wing, pro-business groups.


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