Legalizing cannabis is just one part of our battle to end the harmful war against the nonviolent cannabis community. Even after ending arrests and prosecutions, we still need to fight to implement sensible business regulations, worker protections, and parental rights, among other policy reforms. Expunging past criminal convictions is an obvious next step and it’s great that Oregon and other states have passed sensible expungement laws following legalization. However, Oregon, and other legal states, should go a step further and automatically eliminate old cannabis convictions, just as Chicago prosecutor Kim Fox is doing for 1,000 people, as reported by the Associated Press:
“Today, we made history and took the first step in the single largest and most equitable piece of criminal justice reform Illinois has ever seen,” Foxx said in a statement. The effort to expunge records in minor marijuana cases is required by the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.
Technology developed by a non-profit organization called Code For America is already being used elsewhere, most notably in California, to clear thousands of convictions. Foxx’s office will use the same technology to evaluate eligibility and remove minor marijuana convictions from people’s records at no cost to them and, in many cases, without their knowledge. The defendants will be notified by the court clerk’s office via email or by a letter that the convictions have been expunged.
The people whose cases are being expunged include those who were convicted of misdemeanors, or Class 4 felonies, the lowest category of felony in Illinois. Anyone convicted of possessing more than 30 grams must apply individually if they want to have their records expunged.
In Oregon, and too many states, expungement is too burdensome, confusing and expensive. Once your dues to society have been paid, and you are a nonviolent, law-abiding citizen, expungement shouldn’t depend upon where you live, on your ability to decipher forms, or how much expendable income that you have. While there are helpful expungement clinics in Oregon, they are usually held in Portland, Eugene, or Medford, and those living outside of the I-5 corridor may not have the means to attend.
Call me a dreamer (but I’m not the only one), but your freedom and equality shouldn’t depend upon where you live and how much money you happen to have in the bank. While it may be a difficult task, let’s bring more justice into our society step by step.