Congressman Says His Marijuana Expungements Bills Could Be ‘Adjunct’ To Reform Package With Banking

Congressman Says His Marijuana Expungements Bills Could Be ‘Adjunct’ To Reform Package With Banking

Rep. Troy Carter (D-LA) told Marijuana Moment in a new interview that he’s “happy to join the battle” to reform federal cannabis laws—and he’s optimistic that his new bill on expunging federal misdemeanor marijuana convictions could build on bipartisan progress that’s been made as congressional lawmakers work to craft a passable reform package that could include banking and other issues this session.

The congressman is sponsoring two recently filed marijuana bills, both with Republican cosponsors: the Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act and the Capital Lending and Investment for Marijuana Businesses (CLIMB) Act, which would allow state-legal cannabis companies to to be listed on national stock exchanges and access key financial services.

Carter isn’t new to the issue. Before entering Congress, he served as a member of the Louisiana Senate Judiciary C Committee, where he was tasked with evaluating the state’s criminal code. The experience further solidified his “passion for justice,” he said in the Thursday interview.

Now that he’s on Capitol Hill, he sees new opportunity for bipartisan collaboration. While he’s a cosponsor of a wide-ranging cannabis legalization bill that cleared the House for the second time in April, the congressman is cognizant of the need to find common ground to get reform through both chambers and to the president’s desk, which will likely mean taking more incremental steps on the path to ending prohibition.

He applauded House and Senate colleagues for building the necessary infrastructure, saying that he’s eager to “lend my experience and expertise as a longtime legislator and longtime advocate in this area to be able to bring some additional light to the great work that’s been done.”

It’s possible that some of the most constructive work on marijuana policy this session is legislation that’s yet to be finalized, however. In the weeks since Senate leadership filed a much-anticipated legalization bill, the conversation has quickly shifted, with key lawmakers saying that there’s promising momentum behind a package of incremental reforms that’s still in the works. Expungements—along the lines of Carter’s new standalone bill—is said to be a key part of the talks, along with marijuana business banking access, among other issues.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), one of the three prime sponsors of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), said on Wednesday that the idea of a “SAFE Banking Plus” bill really is coming together. And despite his prior resistance to enacting modest reforms like a standalone cannabis banking fix before legalization is enacted, he’s at the table ready to compromise, so long as the final product contains equity provisions like expungements.

That’s where the Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act from Carter and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) could come into play. Carter said that he sees the legislation as potentially “adjunct” to the cannabis omnibus bill, as well as another bipartisan measure from Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) that would incentivize state-legal relief for those who have been criminalized over marijuana.

“What’s important to me is that none of my actions be viewed as competition to, or instead of—but in addition to, to assist with, the movement of work that started before I got to Congress,” Carter said.

Marijuana Moment spoke to Carter about a range of cannabis policy developments, from Louisiana to the federal level. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Marijuana Moment: Where do you see your legislation on expunging federal misdemeanor cannabis convictions fitting in with ongoing efforts to advance a passable reform package?

Rep. Troy Carter: I think it can serve as an adjunct. I think that what we’ve attempted to do—you know, we’ve seen these measures fly and flop five or six times, and the American people need action. And so we should endeavor to continue to go back to the drawing board each time to come up with ways to add value to the great work that Sen. Booker and Schumer and [Reps.] Joyce, Perlmutter and so many others that have stood before me, Barbara Lee and others, and I can go on and on, Chairman Nadler, all of these these great leaders that have put forth from misdemeanor expungements, to SAFE Banking or CLIMB.

What’s important to me is that none of my actions be viewed as competition to, or instead of—but in addition to, to assist with, the movement of works that started before I got to Congress while I was working in the [Louisiana legislature].

I’m just happy to join the battle, join the fight and lend my experience and expertise as a longtime legislator and longtime advocate in this area to be able to bring some additional light to the great work that’s been done. So I’m very careful when presenting these bills that, while I think we have some nuances that really give us an opportunity to be closer to the goalposts, because we talk about expungement, we talk about access to financing, we talk about expansion for [minority or women-owned] businesses, and these are all areas that, while we expand, we create opportunity for people of color, people that may not have otherwise had access to financing, to be able to get in the game, if you will.

That’s in addition to, you know, you’ve got 38 states where [cannabis is] legal, and somebody’s sitting there with a ding on their record, or God forbid someone’s sitting in a jail cell. That’s unconscionable. We’ve had good meetings with the White House. We’ve had good meetings with leadership. And we continue to press.

MM: Your bill focuses on federal cannabis convictions, whereas the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act from Reps. Joyce and Ocasio-Cortez seeks to tackle the expungement issue at the state level. Do you view the bills as complementary?

TC: I’m very happy about [the HOPE Act]. HOPE gives the opportunity to provide resources for states to do what I’m attempting to do with with my bill on the federal level. So I think they complement each other, and I’m hopeful that everyone will see it that way and that we will continue to use every tool in our toolbox to fix the problems that plague criminal justice reform, as well as the challenge that legal cannabis businesses have to access capital for expansion and or to start.

MM: Your other recently filed legislation, the CLIMB Act, addresses cannabis industry access to national stock exchanges and financial services. What can you tell me about the origin of the proposal and how it’s been received by your colleagues?

TC: It’s been received well. It gives us an opportunity to have a broad range of options for financing. We know that people that want to be banked in the cannabis business can’t, so we obviously know a person that wanted to start in the cannabis business couldn’t get along do so. It couldn’t go to [the Small Business Administration] or any of the other agencies that we might otherwise direct MBEs, WBEs or small business people period to go to access capital. This gives us an opportunity to open that—to, one, create an opportunity so people can be banked. But also the opportunity to be able to be recognized by NASDAQ and by the stock exchange as a legitimate business enterprise.

[Denying marijuana industry access banking access means tax losses] because we’re not accurately accounting for them because cash businesses are very elusive. These are tax dollars that could go into the coffers in providing for our communities, many of the issues that we so desperately [need to fund], whether it’s health care, education, nutrition, housing or what have you. It makes perfect sense that we should be properly taxing and allowing businesses to expand. CLIMB really zeroes in on that, and that’s what gave us the impetus and the energy to really go forward with it.

It’s a holistic approach to building from the work that so many others have done, and then taking my flavor from Louisiana and experience as a senator and former member of the House, to then kind of blend that together and use the resources of a lot of other big brains that have been at this table, mix it with some of my own Louisiana flavor, to come up with something that we hope will be a winning formula to get relief to the people.

MM: Speaking of Louisiana, the state legislature has enacted a number of cannabis reforms in recent sessions, from possession decriminalization to banning police from using the odor of marijuana as probable cause for searches. How has that momentum in your home state informed your approach to the issue in Congress?

TC: Well, as a former member of the state Senate, I was very active in the entire criminal justice reform package of bills, serving on Judiciary C in the Senate is where many of the criminal justice bills were able to come through. And I have a passion for justice.

You know, Louisiana doesn’t always get it right. But it looks like here’s a case where we are, where we’re recognizing that the necessity of true criminal justice reform means people that have been arrested, convicted or cited for minor violations should not block the way for police officers doing more serious job at getting rapists and murderers and the like [prosecuted].

We’ve got 38 states that are legally providing sales of marijuana, yet we have people that have had their lives ruined for small amounts of marijuana, either through a misdemeanor or citation or conviction. Louisiana is on the right step of that, and I’m proud to pick up where I left off as a member of the Senate now in the U.S. Congress.

MM: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is a rare example of a Democratic governor who remains opposed to adult-use legalization. He’s said he feels the reform will come to Louisiana, but it’s unlikely to happen under his administration. Do you feel like the growing momentum we’re seeing might change that calculus?

TC: Yeah, I think so. And I think even though this governor may be reluctant, I don’t think that he would veto it and I don’t think that he would stop it. He’s been supportive of medicinal cannabis, and we know that the various people who have had medical issues that benefited as a result of cannabis use is something that is undeniable. So obviously, it would be great to to happen under this governor’s watch. We know he has about a year and a half, so there’s a session or two left in the barrel before he before he’s out of there. We’re hopeful that we’re starting to see more and more Republicans and Democrats see the value, and this is one of those issues that should in fact be bipartisan.

MM: Lastly, I want to ask about WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to more than nine years in Russian prison over a cannabis possession conviction on Thursday. Many advocates have said this is an injustice that underscores the need for domestic marijuana reform here. Do you share that sentiment? 

TC: Absolutely. I mean, this is playing out on the world stage for everyone to see. Brittney Griner, with a very small amount of cannabis oil for which she is legally prescribed caught in the switches of a political battle that she shouldn’t have been in—as many, many Americans have found themselves in similar situations. This gives us an opportunity to highlight the complexity, the hypocrisy and the urgency of, now, to level the field on these misdemeanors and on cannabis charges. Brittney Griner should not be in anyone’s jail. Brittney Griner certainly should not have been sentenced to nine and a half years.

I’m proud of the action that President Biden and the administration has taken. I wish we can do it all much faster. I wish it could have been done already. I wish she didn’t have to spend one single day in jail. But we should use this as a shining example of the things that are wrong in our world, in our country, and recognize that we have opportunities now to fix it. And I think that any of the measures, whether it is with my Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act or with HOPE or with SAFE or with CLIMB—we’ve got any number of tools or hybrids of all that can be incredible uses to move us in the right direction of real reform.