653,249 were arrested in the U.S in 2016 on cannabis-related charges despite the fact that medical and recreational cannabis legalization measures were already sweeping the nation.
Many of those arrests led to jail time where the accused joined thousands of others like him or her, locked up behind bars over nothing more than their association with a plant.
While entire countries adopt legalization – like Canada did last week – and megacorporate cannabis companies get actively traded on the stock market, and glossy magazine covers splashed with pot plants fill the shelves at your local convenience store, people are still having their criminal record and the rest of their lives impacted by the last gasps of the failed War on Drugs.
Even if you don’t see jail or prison time for cannabis just having a weed-related felony, or even a misdemeanor, on your record can lead to lost employment opportunities, fewer housing options, relinquished rights to own and possess firearms, stripped access to health benefits, and more haunting and lingering consequences that do not fit the crime.
Now, with recreational adult use cannabis laws ramping up from coast to coast, grassroots activists are demanding that the movement does not leave behind those who were caught up in the legal system during decades of cannabis prohibition.
To address this issue, states like California are looking to implement varying forms of social equity programs (an issue deserving of its own article…or three) and offers of expungement or reduction of cannabis-related charges on one’s permanent criminal record.
Expungement is a term describing a court-ordered process in which the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is “sealed,” or erased in the eyes of the law, and therefore, the public.
This is not a new concept, but it is often a confusing and potentially costly process when lawyers get involved to navigate the system.
In California, for example, Prop64 which passed in 2016 effectively eliminated several cannabis-related crimes. It also applied a retroactive reading of the new laws to past cannabis convictions. This was a major selling point of the flawed proposition, and for well over a year the state gave no roadmap for exactly how those eligible could go about seeking their due process.
The act of hiring an attorney, petitioning the court, attending hearings, etc. costs not only money, but takes time and effort away from jobs or family.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
Recognizing the difficult path that convicted cannabis warriors must walk to find redemption, a coalition of cannabis social justice organizations dubbed the Equity First Alliance is hosting the first of its kind National Expungement Week this week.
Between October 20th through the 27th, educational events will be held in at least 13 locations across the country including:
Los Angeles, CA
New Haven, CT
Prince George’s County, MD
San Francisco, CA
According to a report by our friends over at Ladybud.com:
“These events will provide information to attendees about expungements and other ways to seal or alter criminal records. They will also provide immigration advice and help people register to vote. Some of these events will also have public benefits enrollment assistance, job opportunities, and even health screenings.”
There is no doubt that we have seen a lot of progress in the cannabis movement in the past decade.
Every person that we keep out of the criminal justice system due to cannabis is another small victory to be proud of, but as pathetic as the War on Drugs has become, the war is still raging.
In our home base of Los Angeles, there are hundreds of thousands of expungement-worthy cannabis convictions still on the books, still crippling so many peoples’ progress. The city has yet to effectively address this issue, but has approved plans for a new $3.5 billion jail.
The events being held this week by the Equity First Alliance are much needed and will certainly help to level the playing field a bit. Expungement laws will vary from state to state, so finding an event in your area will be useful for sure.
As we reported in our Cannabis Trailblazers Series about the Freedom Grow organization, we still have people serving life for marijuana convictions in this country, their lives stolen from them by prohibition.
If you are passionate about the cannabis culture and you have not been forced to face the wrath of our corrupt criminal justice system, you are very fortunate. Still, there’s a good chance that you know someone who has and who can benefit from this information – so pass it along.
We have millions of Americans who have served their time or paid their fines but still are shackled by their past every day. Freeing them all from that burden will be the decisive victory in the War on Drugs.
For more information about the Equity First Alliance & this week’s events CLICK HERE