Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is suggesting that marijuana records be expunged, proposing the federal government should offer financial assistance to help states deal with it. Speaking about racial equity and economy on Tuesday this week, Biden asserted that criminal records for marijuana convictions signify a major systemic hurdle to economic opportunity that has had an unequal impact on minority communities.
Getting caught for smoking marijuana when you’re young surely shouldn’t deny you, the rest of your life, being able to have a good-paying job or a career or a loan or an ability to rent an apartment, Biden said.
He added that the process of sealing or expunging those records could be “complicated and costly in the states where the records are kept,” which is why he proposes federal aid.
Federal assistance for expungement
Biden, who has been opposing federal cannabis legalization, said more states should “recognize the significant costs to their economy when people with certain non-violent criminal records can’t fully contribute to their full talents and capacity.” He added that even when some states would want to give an offender a second chance and seal or expunge a particular non-violent criminal record, “the record-keeping systems are so outdated, they don’t know how to do it.”
If elected president, Biden aims to solve that by allowing states that are interested in implementing an automated expungement process to receive federal aid.
“Under my plan, if a state decides it wants to implement an automated system for the sealing and expunging of certain nonviolent records, if a state chooses to do that, the federal government will help put together the process and allow them the money to be able to know how to organize to do that.”
Disappointed cannabis reform advocates
However, cannabis reform advocates remain disappointed with Biden for his lack of consent regarding adult-use cannabis legalization. While a supermajority of Democrats support this move, Biden has remained silent on the issue. During the Tuesday speech, he failed to acknowledge that during his time in the Senate, Biden helped create some of the punitive anti-drug laws that sent people—particularly people of color—to prison and gave them a criminal record.
So far, Biden advocates for modest policy change including decriminalizing marijuana possession, medical cannabis legalization, scratching or sealing of medical records, and allowing states to set their own marijuana policies.
According to the Democratic presidential candidate, the new racial equity plan he rolled out on Tuesday “will advance a pathway for redemption and re-entry—and make real the possibility of second chances for all Americans—by helping states modernize their criminal justice data infrastructure and adopt automated record sealing for selected categories of non-violent offenses, to modernize their criminal justice data infrastructure.”