With limited resources available to combat the multitude of crises facing our nation, we need to prioritize our resources and hard-earned tax dollars. It has become apparent that waging a war on our own nonviolent citizens for the drugs they choose to utilize when they haven’t done anything to harm anyone else. We are never going to arrest and jail our way out of any of the issues caused by drug addiction. The Drug War ruins lives and creates a stigma that prevents people from seeking help that they need while wasting dollars that could be better utilized to fund other programs. Thankfully, Oregon voters realized that Reefer Madness prohibition didn’t work and voted to legalize cannabis back in 2014 and, in 2020 made it known that the War on Drugs has clearly failed and passed Measure 110 to invest more in treatment, harm reduction, and and recovery programs instead of just building more prisons. However, even in a drug policy pioneering state like Oregon, there is much more work to be done, starting with automatically clearing the records of all nonviolent drug offenders. Thankfully, as Marijuana Moment reported, there are rumblings that such a move could be imminent for some at the federal level:
“President Joe Biden is looking into using his executive authority to grant clemency to people with certain non-violent drug convictions, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.
“Asked about plans for federal inmates who were released to home confinement during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic but who will have to return behind bars, Psaki said the administration is ‘working hard every day to reform our justice system in order to strengthen families, boost our economy, give people a chance at a better future.’
“’As part of this, the president is deeply committed to reducing incarceration, helping people successfully reenter society. And he has said too many people are incarcerated—too many are black and brown,’ she said. “And he is therefore exploring multiple avenues to provide relief to certain nonviolent drug offenders, including through the use of his clemency power.’”
Each positive step towards a more sane drug policy gets us closer towards the next positive step as we work towards the ultimate goal of fully dismantling the failed, racist, and classist Drug War. Oregon made expunging cannabis convictions more available following legalization, but taking advantage of the process depends upon having the requisite knowledge to fill out the forms and access to the funds necessary to pay filing fees or lawyer costs. There are great organizations like RecordSponge Oregon, a nonprofit service delivered by Code for PDX in collaboration with Qiu-Qiu Law, that are assisting people, but the program is still out of reach for too many, including nonviolent folks charged with felonies that would be misdemeanors or even non-criminal infractions today. Oregon and other states should automatically expunge the records of nonviolent drug offenders automatically so they can get on with their lives. Hopefully, we get progress on the federal level and success there will motivate the Oregon Legislature, and other legislatures across the nation, to do the right thing as well.
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