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Oregon Governor To Issue Nearly 50,000 Weed Pardons

On Monday, Democratic Governor Kathy Brown announced that she will issue pardons to low-level marijuana possession convictions in adults aged 21 or older who were prosecuted prior 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. This action will also allow for the payment of approximately $14 million in fees and penalties associated with 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 Today, I am taking steps to right the wrongs of a flawed, inequitable, and outdated criminal justice system in Oregon when it comes to personal marijuana possession,” Brown said in a statement on Monday.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.”

The following Pardons are available for pre-2016 convictions in relation to post possession

Monday’s announcement of pardons applies to any pre-2016 convictions of possessing less that one ounce of cannabis in electronically accessible cases where the defendant was 21 or older. There must be no victim in the case, and the charge must have been the sole one. Other controlled substances and other offenses related to marijuana, like cultivation, distribution, sales, are exempted from the pardons.

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. The pardons, however, will help to address any collateral damage that may result from a criminal record and seal such convictions.

Racially-based Pardons to Address 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. President Obama also called for state governors’ to follow suit and instructed the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department, to review the status of marijuana being classified 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. She commuted more than 1000 sentences for state-related crimes between 2020-2021. 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. American citizens have repeatedly supported reforming marijuana laws and supporting their expungement. Congress must now take the initiative and correct these violations 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.”