Democratic Governor Kathy Brown of Oregon announced on Monday that she would issue pardons for low-level marijuana possession convictions of adults 21 and older prosecuted before 2016. The governor’s office reported that the move would encompass a total of 47,114 pardons and affect approximately 45,000 individuals with convictions for possession of small amounts of weed. The action also forgives about $14 million in associated fines and fees levied due to the convictions.
“We are a state, and a nation, of second chances. Today, I am taking steps to right the wrongs of a flawed, inequitable, and outdated criminal justice system in Oregon when it comes to personal marijuana possession,” Brown said in a statement on Monday. “For the estimated 45,000 individuals who are receiving a pardon for prior state convictions of marijuana possession, this action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”
Pardons Apply To Pre-2016 Convictions For Post Possession
The pardons announced on Monday apply to pre-2016 convictions for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in electronically available cases in which the defendant was at least 21 years old. Additionally, there must no victims in the case and the conviction must have been the only charge associated with the prosecution. The pardons do not apply to any other controlled substances or other marijuana-related offenses such as cultivation, distribution, or sales of cannabis.
The pardons will not result in the release of anyone from incarceration because no one is currently behind bars in Oregon solely for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, the governor’s office reported. But the pardons will seal the records of such convictions and help address the collateral harms associated with a criminal history.
Pardons Address Racial Disparities Of The War On Drugs
Brown noted that despite relatively equal levels of cannabis use among racial groups, “Black and Latina/o/x people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates” for marijuana offenses.
“No one deserves to be forever saddled with the impacts of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana — a crime that is no longer on the books in Oregon,” Brown continued. “Oregonians should never face housing insecurity, employment barriers, and educational obstacles as a result of doing something that is now completely legal, and has been for years. My pardon will remove these hardships.”
The governor’s office noted that the pardons will only apply to state-level convictions for marijuana possession because the Oregon Justice Department does not have access to locally maintained city and county municipal or justice court records. In a FAQ document posted online, officials noted what happens when the records are sealed by the court and how the pardons will affect an individual’s recorded criminal history.
“The pardoned marijuana conviction will no longer show up on background checks of public court records,” the governor’s office explained. “However, the conviction may show up on background checks conducted by law enforcement officials or licensing authorities, but it will show up as a pardoned conviction. In addition, certain private companies may have collected the data associated with the conviction prior to the date of the Governor’s pardon, either through a contract with the State or by gathering that data from public sites on the internet.”
Pardon Follow President’s Call For Clemency
Brown’s pardons of minor marijuana possession convictions follows President Joseph Biden’s pardon of federal convictions for simple marijuana possession announced announced last month. The president also called on state governors to take similar action and directed the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to review the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act.
“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement on October 6. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
Brown’s pardons continue her efforts to reform Oregon’s criminal justice system. Between 2020 and 2021, she commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 with convictions for state crimes. After the pardons of marijuana possession offenses were announced on Monday, Democratic U.S. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a supporter of cannabis policy reform at the federal level, issued a statement supporting the governor’s clemency action.
“Pardoning simple possession in Oregon is absolutely necessary to repair the damage done by the failed War on Drugs,” Wyden said. “It is the proper use of governor’s clemency powers and I hope that every governor and state legislature will follow suit. The American people have consistently shown overwhelming support for expungement and reform of our marijuana laws. It is time for Congress to step up and begin to right these wrongs at the federal level. As we approach the end of this Congress, I will continue to push for meaningful cannabis reform, and will fight to get as much done as we possibly can.”