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Oregon Governor Pardons Over 45,000 People With Marijuana Possession Convictions

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Oregon takes action granting pardons to over 45,000 people with marijuana possession following Biden’s federal clemency.

Gov. Kate Brown announced on Monday is pardoning 47,144 people with convictions for possessing a small amount of marijuana and forgiving more than $14 million in unpaid fines and fees.

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 Today, I am taking steps to right the wrongs of a flawed, inequitable, and outdated criminal justice system in Oregon when it comes to personal marijuana possession.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

She also highlighted how the social impact of a conviction for marijuana possession would lead people to face “housing insecurity, employment barriers, and educational obstacles.”

The move follows U.S. President Joe Biden’s mass pardons, which involved about 6,500 people federally convicted with minor possession of marijuana.

Announcing the move, Biden encouraged U.S. governors to do the same at the state level.

In fact, Biden praised Oregon’s pardons just a few hours after Gov. Brown’s announcement.

“Oregon is the latest state to pardon all prior offenses of simple marijuana possession, following my pardon of federal offenses and call to Governors to do the same in their states. It’s time to right our failed approach to marijuana. I urge states to follow Oregon’s example,” Biden said in a tweet.

A pardon is usually a more limited relief than an expungement, but Gov. Brown said the Oregon Department of Justice would work with the courts to seal all applicable possession records formally.

Oregon’s pardon will involve state-level convictions of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana.

In order to be eligible for state pardons, the cases have to meet three criteria: the only charge in the case was for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, the case did not include victims, and the sole individual in the case was 21 years of age or older at the time of the possession of marijuana.

The Governor’s pardon order also forgives about $14 million in unpaid court fines and fees associated only with the pardoned convictions.

As a result, the state will no longer collect these fines and fees, but it may take several weeks before it updates its records and contacts collection agencies to waive the penalties and fees included in the Governor’s pardon.

Oregon legalized marijuana in a 2014 ballot, but the initiative did not include provisions to relieve people previously convicted of cannabis.

Lawmakers passed another law in 2019, establishing a procedure for people convicted of minor marijuana possession charges to petition the courts to vacate their convictions, whereas other U.S. states that have legalized marijuana, such as California, automatically review convictions for cannabis crimes and delete previous records.

In a press statement, Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), stressed “the importance of providing pathways for those with cannabis convictions to have their records forgiven.”

“Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that public officials and the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization,” he said.

The governors of other states have taken similar steps to grant pardons to individuals with low-level marijuana convictions in recent years.

In December 2021, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued more than 1,300 pardons for people convicted of previous marijuana possession offenses, and Nevada, in June 2020, pardoned about 15,000 people previously convicted of offenses related to the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis.

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