The idea for National Expungement Week, as far as one its organizers is concerned, came from the keynote speech that author Michelle Alexander gave at the Drug Policy Alliance's (DPA) annual conference in October 2017.
“She's a lightning rod,” said Margeaux Bruner, referring to the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
“We couldn't just go home after listening to Michelle Alexander talk about building a movement for racial justice and drug policy reform. We felt we had to do something immediately,” Bruner said.
The result of that urgent desire to act is National Expungement Week (NEW), Oct. 20-27, 2018. A coalition of more than 20 organizations supported by a website with the memorable URL OffTheRecord.us, the group is reaching out to cannabis industry, racial equity, reparative justice, and community groups.
Bruner, the organizer for NEW in Michigan, said the event seeks to provide expungement and other legal services to some of the 77 million Americans who have convictions on their records that are preventing them from getting good jobs, housing, educational loans, public assistance, and voting, in many cases.
While the expungement services are open to everyone in need, a large number of people expected to seek help are victims of the war on drugs, said Adam Vine, co-founder of Cage-Free Cannabis and one of the organizers of NEW.
“The war on drugs and the war on cannabis pushed people into an underground economy and activities that, in some cases, led people into crime where they became disenfranchised,” Vine told Marijuana.com. “Now they deserve justice.”
It is those people that NEW hopes to reach in cities where organizers are offering services such as no-cost clinics to help seal or reclassify eligible convictions from criminal records, provide employment resources and resume-writing advice, register voters and conduct health screenings.
Participating areas include: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Haven, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Bruner, a member of the Michigan Democratic Party Cannabis Caucus and Minorities for Medical Marijuana, said expungement is an especially important issue in Michigan.
“While the national average of cannabis arrests of African-Americans is nearly four times higher than that of whites around the country, in some places in Michigan the arrest rate for blacks can be up to 10 times higher,” Bruner told Marijuana.com.
“It's important for everyone to have their records expunged, especially people of color who might want to work in the cannabis industry where we're hoping to have a lot of new jobs after November 6th,” said Bruner, referring to Michigan's Proposal 1 to legalize adult-use marijuana.
Sheena Roberson is the local NEW organizer in Philadelphia, where the group has the support, among many others, of Democratic state Rep. Jordan Harris, who will be offering lectures on his Clean Slate bill, which was passed and signed by Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in June 2018.
“We have six committed attorneys from a variety of practices and we intend to offer a full spectrum of services,” said Roberson. “We have aid from community legal services, public assistance, prison society, Northeastern treatment centers, and many more.”
Roberson, the founder of Cannabis Noire, a company focused on providing resources to minorities and underrepresented groups to create opportunities within the cannabis industry, said over 20 cannabis-related businesses are expected to be at NEW, where they'll hold various cannabis career job fairs.
“In Philadelphia, close to 42 percent of the people seeking assistance during NEW have cannabis-related offenses, many with heavy probation lengths that often lead to violations, which then lead to more jail time,” Roberson told Marijuana.com.
Roberson added that there will be mental health counseling in Philadelphia and an open dialogue session for ex-offenders.