Oregon governor issues nearly 50,000 weed pardons
Democratic Gov. Kathy Brown of Oregon announced Monday that she would issue pardons for low-level marijuana possession convictions of adults ages 21 and older who were prosecuted prior to 2016 convictions for small-amount weed possession. The lawsuit also waived approximately $14 million in related fines and fees levied as a result of the convictions.
“We are a state and a nation of second chances. Today I am taking steps to right the wrongs of a flawed, unjust and antiquated Oregon criminal justice system when it comes to personal possession of marijuana,” Brown said in a statement Monday. “For the estimated 45,000 individuals who will receive pardons for prior federal convictions for marijuana possession, this measure will help alleviate the side effects resulting from those convictions.”
Pardons apply to convictions prior to 2016 for mail possession
The pardons announced Monday apply to pre-2016 convictions for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in electronically available cases where the defendant was at least 21 years old. In addition, there must be no victims in the case and the conviction must have been the only charge related to the prosecution. The pardons do not apply to other controlled substances or other marijuana-related offenses such as growing, distributing, or selling cannabis.
The pardons will not result in anyone being released from custody because no one in Oregon is currently behind bars solely for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, the governor’s office reported. But the pardons will seal the record of such convictions and help address the collateral damage associated with a criminal history.
Pardons address racial differences in the war on drugs
Brown pointed out that despite relatively equal levels of cannabis use among racial groups, “Black and Latina/o/x people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at a disproportionate rate” for marijuana crimes.
“Nobody deserves to be forever burdened with the ramifications of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana — a crime that’s off the books in Oregon,” Brown continued. “Oregonians should never face housing insecurity, employment barriers, and barriers to education for doing something that is perfectly legal now and has been for years. My forgiveness will remove these needs.”
The governor’s office noted that the pardons apply only to state-level convictions for marijuana possession because the Oregon Department of Justice does not have access to the on-site records maintained by city and county governments or the judiciary courts. In an FAQ document posted online, officials determined what happens when records are sealed by the court and how the pardons affect a person’s recorded criminal history.
“The commuted marijuana conviction will no longer show up in background checks on public court records,” the governor’s office said. “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 related to the conviction prior to the date of the governor’s pardon, either through a contract with the state or by collecting that data from public websites on the Internet.”
Pardon Follow the President’s pardon
Brown’s pardon of petty marijuana possession convictions follows President Joseph Biden’s announcement last month of pardoning federal convictions for simple marijuana possession. The president also called on state governors to take similar action and directed the Departments of Health and Justice to review the continued designation of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act.
“As I’ve said many times during my presidential campaign, no one should be in prison just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to jail for possession of marijuana has turned too many lives upside down and incarcerated people for behaviors that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement Oct. 6. and educational opportunities. And while whites and blacks and browns use marijuana at similar rates, blacks and browns have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
Brown’s pardon continues her efforts to reform Oregon’s criminal justice system. Between 2020 and 2021, she commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 with state crime convictions. After Monday’s announcement of a pardon for marijuana possession offenses, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, a supporter of federal cannabis policy reform, issued a statement supporting the governor’s clemency.
“The pardon for humble possessions in Oregon is absolutely necessary to repair the damage done by the failed War on Drugs,” Wyden said. “It is the proper use of the governor’s clemency powers, and I hope every governor and state legislature will follow suit. The American people have consistently shown overwhelming support for scrapping and reforming our marijuana laws. It’s time for Congress to take action and start correcting these mistakes at the federal level. As we near the end of this Congress, I will continue to push for meaningful cannabis reform and fight to get as much done as possible.”