Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Over at my sentencing blog, I have spotlighted here what seems to be a truly historic congressional hearing taking place this afternoon, July 26, 2022, before the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism of the US Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearing is titled "Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms," and the scheduled witnesses all seem likely to have something notable to say. One of the scheduled witnesses is Weldon Angelos, and he previewed his testimony via this new Marijuana Moment commentary that is worth reading in full. Here are excerpts:
Tuesday will be a historic day in the U.S. Senate. Members of a key subcommittee have invited me to testify at a hearing on cannabis reform and the harms of criminalization — a first-of-its-kind meeting in a chamber where marijuana policy and the lifelong consequences of prohibition have been swept under the rug for far too long.
My message to the panel will be simple: My name is Weldon Angelos, and I am living proof of the benefits of second chances. But I’m far from the only person deserving of relief. I plan to remind members that inaction will only continue to breed injustice, and there’s no more time to waste.
The topic of the hearing — the critically important issue of federal cannabis decriminalization — affects the lives of millions of Americans, from those who have interacted with the criminal justice system, to patients and veterans who get relief from cannabis....
National cannabis reform must include: (1) the release of federal cannabis offenders; (2) a true expungement and sealing of records; and (3) the creation of meaningful opportunities for the formerly incarcerated upon release.
With a comprehensive approach to cannabis reform, we could immediately assist many of the nearly 3,000 people serving federal prison time for cannabis offenses, as well as the tens of thousands of individuals whose lives and futures are haunted by records of cannabis arrests, convictions, and sentences. Further still, Congress must provide the resources to address state-level cannabis arrests, convictions, and sentences, since each year hundreds of thousands of individuals become entangled in state criminal justice systems despite cannabis being legal in some form in 37 states, three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
This is why I was excited and grateful to see the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act introduced last week. This bill would deschedule cannabis, helping to end the harmful criminal justice impacts of prohibition and supporting the expungement and resentencing of cannabis convictions, all while allowing states the right to decide the direction their jurisdiction will take.
Congress must also address the residual effects of cannabis convictions. Those with felony convictions can be politically disenfranchised, losing the right to vote or to serve on juries, for instance. They lose other civil liberties like the right to possess a firearm legally, as well as lawful opportunities afforded to others in education and in public housing, among other things. Cannabis convictions adversely impact credit scores too, and they can impede or entirely prevent employment, creating permanent barriers to true participation in society.
Even with a full presidential pardon, I still feel the stranglehold of my cannabis conviction. In my home state of Utah, my prior conviction bars me from participating in the state’s legal medical cannabis industry. The state refuses to issue licenses to individuals with felony cannabis convictions, even with a full presidential pardon. In California — the other state I call home — my criminal history prevents me from accessing credit, capital, and financing despite having engaged in conduct that is now legal throughout the jurisdiction....
I realize that I am one of the lucky ones. I am no longer inmate 10053-081. I am Weldon Angelos, a reform advocate with the immense privilege of being invited to testify before a Senate panel. But my fortune is not universal. I am reminded of all those left behind in prison — those who are still serving unjust sentences — many of whom are Black and Hispanic men and women who continue to serve time while predominantly white CEOs and entrepreneurs make millions from the recreational and medical cannabis industries around the country. The cannabis industry should be able to grow and thrive, but not at the expense of those who are still incarcerated.
And as we think about federal cannabis reform and ensure the release of those who are still serving, we must also provide opportunities and resources to support reentry and create a pathway to expungement to stop the collateral consequences.