Crime, News, OREGON

Gov. Brown pardons marijuana possession convictions for about 45,000 people

This story originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle and is republished here under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. Read more stories at oregoncapitalchronicle.com.

With just over a month left in her term, Gov. Kate Brown has issued a sweeping pardon for Oregonians convicted of possessing a small amount of marijuana.

The pardons, announced Monday, will benefit an estimated 45,000 people, according to a statement from her office. The pardons include the forgiveness of about $14 million in associated fines.

The pardons only apply to those convicted of possessing no more than 1 ounce of marijuana before 2016, when Oregon legalized recreational use of marijuana for people at least 21 years old. Medical marijuana was legalized by a ballot measure passed by Oregonians in late 1998.

The latest pardons apply to 47,144 cases in which marijuana possession was the only charge and in which there were no victims. 

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The move will not lead to any prison releases. The governor’s office said in a statement that there are currently no people incarcerated in Oregon for marijuana possession. But it will make it easier for those with a marijuana possession conviction on their record to get a job, find housing and benefit from training and educational opportunities that might have excluded them.

“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 said in a statement. “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.”

She said the pardons also have an equity side, helping the many Black people and Latinos convicted of marijuana possession.

“I am taking steps to right the wrongs of a flawed, inequitable and outdated criminal justice system in Oregon when it comes to personal marijuana possession. 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,” Brown said in her statement.

The pardons will essentially scrub convictions by sealing them in court records within six to eight weeks. 

The convictions might show up on law enforcement checks but as a pardoned offense. Some private companies may still have access to the convictions if they’ve already collected that data, the governor’s office said.

“If your conviction was pardoned, the state will inform private companies with data agreements with state courts that the convictions were pardoned and most will remove the pardoned cases from their records,” the governor’s office said in an FAQ

President Joe Biden in October pardoned thousands of Americans with federal convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana and urged governors to do the same. The governors of Washington, Colorado, Nevada and Illinois have issued similar mass pardons in recent years, incoming Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey has pledged to do so and several states where recreational marijuana is legal automatically review and expunge records, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The pardons are in addition to 63 others since Brown took office in 2015, according to a statement from Liz Merah, one of Brown’s spokespeople. She’s also commuted the sentences of hundreds of people. By this past September, she had pardoned or granted commutations  to 1,147 people – more than all of Oregon’s governors from the last 50 years combined, according to a story in The Guardian. They include the early release of 963 people who had committed nonviolent crimes and met certain criteria.

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