Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are making a serious push to expunge people's pot convictions
National Expungement Week is Spetember 21 to 28.
In America, one dumb mistake can hang over your head forever.
Nearly 30% of the American adult population — about 70 million people — have at least one criminal conviction that can prevent them from being treated equally when it comes to everything from job and housing opportunities to child custody.
Twenty million of these Americans have felony convictions that can destroy their chances of making a comfortable living and prevents them from voting out the lawmakers who imprisoned them.
Many of these convictions are drug-related and stem from the War on Drugs that began in the U.S. '80s. This war has unfairly targeted the minority community, especially African-Americans.
Research reported by Human Rights Watch shows that while African-American and white people use and sell recreational drugs at around the same rate, African-Americans are much more likely to be arrested.
In 1980, black people were arrested at rates almost three (2.9) times the rate of whites. In the years with the worst disparities, between 1988 and 1993, blacks were arrested more than five times the rate of whites. In the last six years, the ratio of black to white drug arrest rates has ranged between 3.5 and 3.9.
Over the past decade, bolstered by the success surrounding legal marijuana and a sharp decline in the U.S. crime rate, Americans and their elected officials have been reevaluating the effects of the drug war.
This has led to a host of major cities and the states of Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire, illinois, Nevada, and California to expunge thousands of people's marijuana-related offenses.
The Obama administration commuted the sentences of hundreds of non-violent drug offenders during the end of his second term. In December 2018, President Trump signed the First-Step Act which freed 3,000 people, many of which are non-violent drug offenders.
In an effort to help people have their criminal convictions expunged or sealed, over four dozen organizations have come together for National Expungement Week (N.E.W.) September 21 to 28.
It's a week of over 40 events held in 30 cities across the U.S. and Canada, including free clinics to help remove, seal, or reclassify eligible convictions from criminal records (depending on local legislation), as well as provide expungement education workshops and complementary services.
This year, the N.E.W.'s presenting sponsor is Houseplant, a Canadian cannabis brand co-founded by actor-writer Seth Rogen and writer-director Evan Goldberg along with its partner, Canopy Growth Corporation.
Rogen and Goldberg have collaborated on numerous classic comedies including "Superbad," "Pineapple Express," and "This is the End."
Upworthy got the chance to have a chat with Rogen and Goldberg about N.E.W.'s efforts to help people get free from past convictions, the insanity of the drug war, and pot legalization's affect on the stoner comedy genre.
Upworthy: We've hit a tipping point where people's attitudes towards the War on Drugs are rapidly changing. What do you think has swayed public opinion?
Seth Rogen: People have realized that cannabis should not have ever been illegal in the first place. And if you look into the reasons why it's illegal, a lot of it is motivated by racism and literally designed to control marginalized groups. It never was right and, I think, with education more and more people realize that.
Evan Goldberg: I think a lot of it has to do with the Internet. People jut look up "Why is marijuana illegal?" and you'll find the answer is fucking crazy.
SR: What's nice to see is there's momentum towards a broad acknowledgement that it was always an unjust war. People who smoke cannabis should have never been targeted in the first place. People see that with legalization at the state level, and that in Canada it's legal, that a lot of the things people were saying about it were wrong.
UP: It's like we all believed the "Reefer Madness" myth.
SR: Yeah, exactly and there's enough information out there to let the average person know that none of that is true.
Up: There's still a lingering sentiment out there that the war on cannabis is still a good thing, like when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was saying he'll crack down on marijuana. How do you convince these people otherwise?
EG: We've reached the place where a lot of people see there's a lot of money to be made and that's' changing some attitudes.
SR: One of the rare moments where capitalism might actually help our culture in some way.
UP: Throughout your involvement with National Expungement Week are there any cases or stories you've heard that have deeply affected you?
SR: In my life I've met tons of people records for possession, minor offenses. I grew up in Canada, where it's a little different, but I've done comedy with tons of comedians who could not cross the border because they had minor drug charges.
That seriously damages their careers and their livelihood. After I moved to L.A., I met tons and tons of normal people who also had offenses. Whereas I was leading a life [in Canada] where I could pretty much smoke weed anywhere I wanted without any repercussions, [in L.A.] I was meeting people who could not. They had a lot of problems doing the same thing I was doing and that's led to us trying to fix this situation.
You're arrested? Have a record? Now that it's happened, how do help people get rid of that record and move on with their lives with the understanding they never should have had it in the first place. That's what Cage-Free Cannabis specifically was focusing on and we really found a lot of common ground over their goals.
EG: As two guys who are lucky enough to be from Vancouver, British Columbia where we could just walk down the street and not get in any real trouble we owe it to the people who aren't lucky enough to live in an area that is lenient.
UP: For people with records that they'd like expunged or sealed, what's the first step?
SR: The first step is to go to www.offtherecord.us to find information to see if you are eligible for expungement. All over America and Canada they're setting up places where people can physically go and get help with their expungement and get legal advice to see if they are eligible. If you are, they will help you with your expungement.
UP: Do you think weed legalization will be a big issue in the 2020 election? Bill Maher is always saying saying Democrats should make single-issue voters out of weed people like the Republicans do with gun owners.
SR: It's hard for me to predict any trends in the American political climate to be totally honest.[Laughs] I don't know where all of this is going. I hope it becomes a bigger issue. I think there are millions of millions of people's lives that have been negatively affected by the War on Drugs.
EG: Everyone has been affected by the unfathomable waste of money. It's like dumping money into a fucking pit. That money could be going to a million different things to help this country and everyone in it.
UP: It's like a guy gets busted for a dime bag and the taxpayers get charged $50,000 a year to keep him in a cage.
SR: It literally makes no sense in any way, shape, or form until you understand the privatized prison system. Then it makes a lot of sense.
UP: What's the biggest part about the expungement issue most people don't know about?
SR: To me, the shocking statistic is that there are around 350 million people in America and around 80 million of these people have criminal records and a lot of that is for very minor offenses. That is almost a quarter of the country can't do the things that most of us do without even thinking twice. Getting jobs, voting, getting loans…
EG: It's more than the population of Canada. When you think of that number and you think about the drain on the economy, people, and communities, it's just waste. It's crazy to think about a guy who can't get a job because of this watching me go into [a pot store] and come out with a shopping bag with legally acquired things while his life is still held back.
UP: It's also a law-enforcement issue, police probably have bigger things to worry about.
SR: A lot of the reasons weed is illegal is to control marginalized groups. If you take something everyone does but you only enforce it with some people, you've come up with a very good way to put who ever you want in jail.
UP: Do you think that as weed becomes less taboo, stoner comedies will be less funny?
SR: [Laughs] Definitely.
EG: [Laughs] Everything we make gets less funny over time.
SR: We have no stoner comedies on the horizon right now.
EG: Twenty years from now people will be like "Why are these dumb guy smoking weed?"
SR: They'll go the way of martini comedies of the '30s.