DC’s cannabis expungement bill is now law

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Congress didn’t stand in the way of a bill to give DC control over marijuana expungements

Since the Second Chance Amendment Act received unanimous approval by the DC Council in December, the measure has met with nothing but good news. This Washington, DC, bill that seeks to automatically expunge certain marijuana possession records went into effect on March 10. The latest Congressional review seemed to go well, and now former cannabis convicts are celebrating the new law.

The sweeping criminal justice reform legislation received good news earlier this year when DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said her signature was not needed for enactment. Congressional lawmakers subsequently decided to refuse to override, resulting in the measure becoming law late last week.

Before the recent green light came, lawmakers adopted an amendment by Councilwoman Christina Henderson that provided greater transparency on the expungement language. It has been made clear that all those records related to possession (regardless of quantity) before the District’s legalization law went into effect in February 2015 would have to be automatically expunged by the courts.

While it is true that possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is permitted by DC, criminal records do not always reflect quantity. That has made it difficult for the court and litigants to have adequate knowledge from the record itself whether the record qualifies as decriminalized conduct. The rationale for the Henderson amendment came to clarify that picture.

“Including all simple possession, rather than just possession of two ounces or less, clarifies the intent and allows the court and litigants to better implement the law,” the amendment states. Under the new law, expungements must be prosecuted by January 1, 2025, or “within 90 days after the prosecutor’s termination of the case or final disposition, whichever is later.”