Legalizing Adult-use Cannabis to Provide a Second Chance for Pennsylvania

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"These are not people who we need to worry about from a recidivism perspective. They deserve to have their records cleared."

Earlier this year, House Bill 2050 was introduced — a measure to allow for the legal sale of adult-use cannabis through a permitting structure for growers, processors and dispensaries.

This bill contains several important components, including helping our young people, supporting affordable housing and resources to help businesses owned by ethnic minorities and women. Moreover, it will provide our country with much-needed revenue at a time when we face major economic challenges.

Unfortunately, one component of the bill that got lost in the media attention following its introduction is the Cannabis Clean Slate initiative, which would provide for the expungement of cannabis-related offenses for nonviolent drug offenders.

If you don't think it's going to have a positive impact on thousands of people in our state, think again. Nearly 250000 people in Pennsylvania have been arrested for eating a plant that is legal in several states. It's shameful in itself, but imagine that many years later, the same people find it hard to find a job, get a commercial loan or get through a criminal background check - all because they have a record of possessing or using marijuana.

This is wrong. Now, we have the ability to change that and take steps to reform our criminal justice system, which will really change the lives of thousands of people in our great state. For more than 40 years, we have been able to play a role in eliminating harm by criminalizing people who commit minor drug crimes.

Right now, approximately 16% of Americans have consumed cannabis at least once. It’s safe to say that most of them are not considered criminals. For Pennsylvanians who are or who were incarcerated, it’s long overdue to change the perceptions surrounding cannabis and bring about real reform.

Too many people have been prosecuted for minor nonviolent drug crimes, including possession or use of marijuana - people who should not have been in the criminal justice system in the first place. They can and should be released, and their records should be deleted, because it puts them in a very disadvantageous position, not only in finding jobs or loans, but also in things that many of us take for granted, such as accompanying children at school. Such offenses can also be unfairly used against someone during a child custody dispute, even when the so-called offense occurred more than a decade ago.

People deserve a second chance. Part of that is releasing Pennsylvanians from the adverse and collateral consequences of a criminal conviction for minor, nonviolent drug offenses. For those who have already been released after serving their time, their records must be expunged.

These are not people who we need to worry about from a recidivism perspective. They deserve to have their records cleared.

It’s time to have the conversation on H.B. 2050 and move Pennsylvania forward.

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