Oregon governor pardons thousands over marijuana convictions

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday that she will pardon an estimated 45,000 people convicted of simple possession of marijuana, a month after President Joe Biden did the same under federal law.

“Nobody deserves to be forever saddled with the consequences of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana — a crime that’s off the books in Oregon,” said Brown, who also has more than $14 million in unpaid fines and fees waived.

Biden has called on governors to issue pardons for those convicted of state marijuana offenses, reflecting the vast majority of marijuana possession cases. Biden’s pardon applies to those convicted under federal law and thousands convicted in the District of Columbia.

In recent months, the governors of Colorado, Nevada, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington state have taken steps to grant pardons to those with minor marijuana convictions, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Several states, including California, Illinois and New Jersey, automatically review criminal cannabis convictions and delete previous records. In other jurisdictions, beneficiaries must seek review from the courts.

As a result of these laws, an estimated 2 million Americans have had their cannabis-related convictions overturned in recent years, said Paul Armentano, associate director of NORML.

“Our sense of justice and principles of fairness require officials and courts to act quickly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization,” Armentano said.

In 2019, Oregon lawmakers passed legislation establishing procedures for people convicted of minor marijuana possession offenses to petition the court to have the convictions vacated. To date, however, relatively few Oregonians have done so.

In Oregon, the pardon will remove 47,144 convictions for possession of a small amount of marijuana from individual records. Brown found that removing these criminal records removes barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.

The pardon applies to convictions for possession of 1 ounce (28 grams) or less of marijuana when the person was 21 years of age or older, where it was the only charge with no victims.

“Oregonians should never face housing insecurity, barriers to employment and barriers to education when doing something that is perfectly legal now and has been for years,” Brown said. She said people of color were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to disproportionate prices.

The Oregon Department of Justice will ensure that all court records related to these pardoned felonies are sealed, Brown said.

Oregonians passed a ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana use in 2014, becoming one of the first states to do so. In November, voters in Maryland and Missouri also legalized cannabis, but voters in Arkansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota opposed it.

Maryland’s initiative came with a conviction cancellation mechanism. By July 1, 2024, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services must clear all cases where possession of cannabis was the only charge in the case and the charges were filed before July 1, 2023.

Maryland and Missouri joined 19 other states and the District of Columbia in making recreational marijuana legal.