It’s been a hectic few weeks in the world of marijuana pardons. First, President Joe Biden announced that he would grant amnesty to people convicted of non-violent marijuana crimes under federal law. Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced that she would be pardoning thousands of people sentenced on cannabis charges, pardoning a whopping 47,000 people.
The Oregon Pardon
The state of Oregon has introduced a new program to pardon people convicted of simply possessing marijuana. Governor Kate Brown will also forgive over $14 million in unpaid fines and fees for those pardoned.
In 2019, Oregon lawmakers passed legislation establishing procedures for people found guilty of low-level marijuana possession offenses to file a motion with the court to have the convictions set aside. Unfortunately, relatively few Oregonians have taken the steps necessary, so the government has elected to take action and automatically issue pardons en masse.
The Oregon Judicial Department will ensure that all court records associated with these pardoned offenses are sealed, removing barriers to housing, employment, and education.
Stepping In Where Biden Failed
While Joe Biden’s pardon of cannabis possession at a federal level is a significant step forward, it’s only a tiny part of what needs to be done to reduce the number of people still suffering from these outdated and frankly criminal laws.
The pardon was fantastic news for the 6,500 people receiving clemency. Still, it does little to cut into the number of people convicted of cannabis charges, much less the overall prison population.
Federal pardons are more symbolic than anything because they exclude the vast majority of those convicted of cannabis-related crimes, which overwhelmingly occur at state levels. According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, state and local law enforcement agencies reported 170,856 arrests for marijuana possession in 2021 alone, down from over 220,000 arrests in 2020. While these numbers don’t show the total number of those convicted, they showcase the insane number of people being arrested for something legal in many parts of the country. If over 170,000 people are detained in a single calendar year, 6,500 pardons are insufficient to rectify the problem.
Biden is encouraging state governments to issue their pardons, and states like Colorado, Washington, Nevada, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have begun taking steps toward doing so—along with Oregon, which will automatically review illegal cannabis convictions and expunge records as part of their new law allowing for automatic expungement.
As a result of these laws (and others), an estimated 2 million Americans had their cannabis-related convictions set aside in recent years, and more are expected to come.
The Future Of Cannabis Clemency
As we move closer and closer to federal legalization, marijuana clemency becomes an even more crucial part of drug and criminal justice reform. More states with legal cannabis need to implement clemency programs for those with convictions. Pardoning possession will take care of the large majority of the problem, as around 90% of cannabis convictions in America are for possession.
While legalization is a huge step forward, it needs to go further for some. There are still people convicted of possession, even in states where it’s legal now, who are serving prison sentences because their cases went through federal court. These individuals should be granted clemency and released immediately, and more states need to develop clemency programs.
If federal legalization of cannabis becomes a reality, states and the federal government can work on clemency for trafficking or manufacturing cannabis. However, the focus should first be given to granting pardons for possession. This is because most people convicted of possession are not involved in any other crime, including manufacturing or trafficking. Many people arrested for possession were caught with a small amount of marijuana and did not even intend to sell it to anyone else.
The goal of legalizing cannabis is to ensure everyone has access to high-quality marijuana products without worrying about being arrested or having their lives ruined by a criminal record. This means that there will be no need for people who grow weed at home or those who use it recreationally to worry about arrest anymore, reducing the need for our insane prison system and hopefully improving American criminal justice as well.
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