There are approximately 7.1 million unfilled jobs in the United States today — but some people still can’t find work because they have a criminal record for a marijuana-related crime.
The Clean Slate Act, if it is successful, could change the lives of literally millions. As a whole, American attitudes toward marijuana usage have shifted dramatically in the last few decades. While marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, many people are calling for that to change. In addition, numerous state laws now permit the use of medical marijuana for people with specific conditions. Recreational marijuana has even been legalized in several states, including California, Oregon, Alaska and Michigan — and there’s been no mass upheaval in society as a result.
Yet, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), half of all drug arrests in this country are related to marijuana. Even more startling, 88% of those roughly 8.2 million arrests were just for simple possession of the drug — not trafficking or anything serious. The arrests and convictions for marijuana use have created an underclass of citizens with a criminal record — a disproportionate number of whom are people of color — who can’t move forward in life. They’re barred from jobs based on things as small as a 10-year-old possession charge when they were teenagers or denied access to public housing or money for school.
A bipartisan group in Congress would like to change that. If the Clean Slate Act passes, it would automatically seal federal criminal records of people who were convicted of minor marijuana offenses like possession. The Act already has the support of such diverse groups as the American Conservative Union Foundation, FreedomWorks and the Center for American Progress. In fact, some supporters feel like the law doesn’t go far enough — they’d like to see reforms that would drop all minor, nonviolent offenses from peoples’ records.
Meaningful change to the criminal justice system is coming, albeit slowly. Until that happens, if you’re arrested on drug charges, make sure that you have an experienced defense attorney by your side.