The jobs created and revenue generated by legalizing and regulating cannabis garners most of the headlines and it is certainly great for the cannabis community to be able to venture into stores like Kind Leaf to access amazing strains and products, but the foundation of the movement is criminal justice reform. Too many lives are hurt and ruined by the classist and racist War on Drugs. Most tragically, innocent people like Breonna Taylor and Kathryn Johnston have been killed in drug raids while the United States embarrassingly has the highest rate of incarcerated residents in the world because of unjust drug laws. Harmful convictions then follow people for their entire lives, hindering education, employment, and housing opportunities. PBS covered how automatic expungement of to clear previous cannabis convictions is picking up steam in states that have ended prohibition:
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana over the last nine years, and industry advocates have applauded measures to de-stigmatize the substance and bring major revenue to state coffers.
But for people with lingering drug convictions like Michael, the news has raised more questions about what legalization means for their criminal records.
Currently in Virginia, “you have to go through all these hoops and loopholes to actually have an expungement,” Michael said. This may soon change. Like many other states that recently legalized marijuana, Virginia lawmakers included provisions in their legislation that over several years will allow for the automatic expungement of certain marijuana convictions, meaning people like Michael may one day see their records cleared without having to petition to do so.
Oregon House Bill 3112, the Equity Investment Act, previously known as the Cannabis Equity Act, would add momentum to this important revolution. An email from the Cannabis Equity PAC and the NuLeaf Project explained:
In July 2020, our workgroup came together in response to Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and a rash of other police violences against Black people that represent the extreme cases of a prevailing problem: racially-biased over-policing. Our workgroup was earnestly formed by community and legislators as a reparative justice response with cannabis as the tool for justice.
Cannabis possession arrests contributed to a multi-generational economic downward spiral for Black communities. As available tax dollars from legal cannabis continues to grow, cannabis is the right nexus to address equity in Black communities.
Equity Investment Act’s 4 parts are:
- Community investment fund comprised of 25% of cannabis taxes and 10% of Criminal Fines Account, representing app. $50M initially
- Free, automatic expungement for cannabis possession crimes, including expungement for people who still owe fines and fees
- Cannabis equity licenses, including addition of On Premise and Delivery licenses
- Office & board to implement community investments and track effectiveness
Clearing your criminal record of nonviolent conduct, especially when that conduct has become legal, should not be dependent upon your ability to navigate a complicated process and pay an attorney and filing fees. It’s immoral for a state to continue punishing people for conduct that has become a regulated billion-dollar industry putting millions upon millions into the state’s coffers. A sincere thanks to the Cannabis Equity PAC and the NuLeaf Project for helping lead this important fight in Oregon and all advocates that are putting in the time to achieve more justice here in the Great Northwest and across our nation.