While the millions of dollars in revenue and tens of thousands of jobs garner most of the headlines, longtime cannabis law reform advocates are most interested in creating more freedom and improving the lives of nonviolent folks that choose to utilize a substance with medical benefits and is safer than alcohol. Far too many lives have been decimated and ruined because of Reefer Madness and ending prohibition provides an opportunity to bring some semblance of justice for those harmed by a failed and ill-advised war on a nontoxic plant. Some states have put social justice and righting past wrongs at the forefront of their legalization laws, providing a blueprint for other states, including those like Oregon that have been pioneers but can still do better. New Jersey has helped lead the way by automatically expunging 360,000 cannabis convictions with more on the way, as NJ.com reported:
“The state Judiciary had estimated some 360,000 cases qualified for automatic expungement following the passage of the marijuana decriminalization law, which did away with fines and penalties for possessing and selling small amounts of weed. The judiciary began vacating and dismissing cases in July, and then expunged them, a step that ultimately clears a person’s record.
“There could be another 125,000 to 150,000 potential marijuana expungements for the courts to complete automatically, said MaryAnn Spoto, a spokeswoman for the Judiciary. People with marijuana cases that were not automatically expunged can file a motion for review with the court.
“A state Supreme Court order issued this summer laid out the new, automated process for vacating, dismissing and expunging certain marijuana offenses from people’s records. The eligible charges include possession of marijuana and selling less than one ounce, as well as related crimes like possession of drug paraphernalia, being under the influence, failing to turn over marijuana or being or possessing marijuana while in a vehicle.”
To help those that haven’t had their records automatically cleared, 420NJEvents is hosting a free legal clinic on Sept. 14 in Newark. Folks in Oregon can check out RecordSponge that helps community organizations determine if people qualify to have their past records expunged. Organizations like Qiu-Qiu Law in Portland, Signs of Hope in Medford, and the Pendleton Legal Aid Services of Oregon are helping people navigate through the hoops required by the state to clear their record. Unfortunately, Oregonians must pay fees and sometimes hire an attorney to help them remove harmful convictions. It shouldn’t be like this.
The Oregon Legislature needs to pass a law that automatically expunges nonviolent drug offenses. There shouldn’t be two criminal justice systems, even though we have become numb to the fact that those with means get better results than those without, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Beaver State has been a great pioneer in dismantling the Drug War piece by piece, but we can learn from the Garden State and others that are efficiently and justily improving the livelihood of people unjustly harmed by the War on Drugs.