Here’s Why National Expungement Week Should Matter to All of Us

September 22nd, 2022

Written by Zack Ruskin

Each day, victory in the fight to end cannabis-related employment discrimination grows ever closer.

Just earlier this week, California workers scored a big win on the urine test front when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 2188 into law. Well we think that timing is exceptionally appropriate given it’s also National Expungement Week!

Founded in 2018, National Expungement Week has expanded from an initial edition that encompassed 18 events in 15 U.S. cities to its current form: a year-round endeavor under the rebranded name National Expungement Works. Either way, the initials are N.E.W. and Glass House Farms is proud to shine a spotlight on their mission as part of 2022’s National Expungement Week (September 18-25).

Why give the topic of expungement its own week? Because it’s a cornerstone of the larger movement to ensure legal cannabis markets support the movement for restorative justice. Practically speaking, expungement can also change people’s lives as those with a past record often struggle to find and retain employment.

Per Clean Slate Initiative (CSI): nearly 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges use background checks to screen applicants. When you factor in CSI’s findings that applicants with a record are “half as likely as other job seekers to get a call back from an employer,” it paints a picture of a job market largely off-limits to those with a record of any kind.

Adding to the pitfalls: the “more than 44,000 state and federal regulatory restrictions that limit individuals with conviction and non-conviction records from accessing employment, occupational licensing, housing, public benefits, voting, education, and other opportunities.”

In total, CSI estimates that shutting out individuals with a record costs the U.S. economy “an estimated $78-87 billion per year” in lost GDP. That a criminal record of any kind can severely limit an individual’s employment opportunities is an especially cruel irony given the glut of new hires currently taking place across legal cannabis.

That’s where N.E.W. comes in, employing an approach that tackles the issue on two primary fronts.

The first is to offer practical assistance for eligible individuals seeking to have their records expunged. As a coalition of grassroots organizers from across the country, N.E.W.’s stated goals include “[advocacy] for access to record relief and wraparound services that go beyond record clearance.” Their second focus? Advocacy for policy changes. For example: the automatic (and retroactive) expungement of records related to cannabis offenses as a prerequisite of state legalization.

These days, N.E.W. has upped their game by making their services available on a 365-days-a-year basis. Nonetheless, the occasion of National Expungement Week still offers an ideal opportunity to emphasize the important work that’s still left to be done in pursuit of an equal and accessible legal cannabis future for all.

At Glass House Farms, we’re always in favor of putting our money (and our mouth) where our mouth is. For Glass House CEO Kyle Kazan, this cause is a personal one as well. As a former police officer, Kyle’s made the most of his unique dual expertise by becoming an outspoken advocate for all non-violent cannabis offenders to be pardoned by President Biden.

“[It] is my penance to speak out until this injustice is over,” Kyle told Leafly in 2021 while spotlighting his involvement with The Weldon Project and its “Mission Green” initiative.

Founded in the wake of his own release from prison following a 2004 arrest involving an undercover officer, The Weldon Project is Weldon Angelos’ attempt to pay it forward.

Dedicated to securing the release and expungement of anyone currently incarcerated for a nonviolent cannabis offense, The Weldon Project’s “Mission Green” made headlines by sending a star-studded letter to President Joe Biden last year.

In it, signees urged him to “grant a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to all persons subject to federal criminal or civil enforcement on the basis of non-violent marijuana offenses.” Signed by lawmakers, academics, members of law enforcement, top-charting artists (Drake, 2 Chainz), and Hall of Fame athletes (Deion Sanders, Kevin Garnett), the letter sought to make President Biden deliver on his 2020 campaign website promise to “decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions” if elected president.

Late last year, Kyle kicked things up another notch by joining The Weldon Project’s Board of Directors. Additionally, Glass House Brands made a $25,000 donation to the organization. As part of the NY Post’s ‘420’ coverage this spring, Kyle was blunt in his assessment of the current administration.

“For me, the biggest disappointment of Joe Biden’s presidency has been his administration’s delay in ending the awful duality in which a multibillion dollar industry is being built in violation of the same laws that keep thousands wasting away in prison. President Biden and I were both participants in the failed War on Drugs, and I am hopeful that he will redress this ugly part of our history and recognize the folly of his policy by living up to his campaign commitment.”

Want to hear him in his own words? Check out this episode of Cannabinoid Connect from March featuring Kyle as a special guest.

In June, Kyle took things to the individual level by appearing virtually to advocate for a lenient sentence in the case of Jose Valero Jr.

Convicted of crimes related to the “approximately 4.5 pounds of marijuana, three handguns, and over $15,600 in U.S. currency” found by a deputy in his vehicle following a traffic stop in 2020, Valero faced a sentence of 5-7 years under federal law. Despite compelling testimony from Kyle and others, Valero was sentenced to seven years in prison. It’s a stark reminder of the work that remains before us.

But united —and powered by amazing organizations like The Weldon Project and N.E.W. — we’re ready to ride these winds of change to a better tomorrow.

Learn more:

Next article: Where Can You Smoke in California? Legal Spots to Smoke Cannabis.

Zack Ruskin

Zack is a freelance cannabis and culture reporter. He served as San Francisco Weekly's "Pacific Highs" columnist for six years, covering local equity programs, Bay Area cannabis news, and interviewing everyone from Willie Nelson to Rep. Barbara Lee. His other bylines include the San Francisco Chronicle, Leafly, California Leaf Magazine, The Nib, Vanity Fair, KQED, and Variety. Follow him on Twitter: @zackruskin.