Tag: RecordSponge

New Jersey Has Automatically Expunged 360,000 Cannabis Convictions With More on the Way

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.

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“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.

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Provide Clemency for All Nonviolent Drug Convictions Now

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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Nearly Half a Million Cannabis Arrest Records Expunged in Illinois

The New Year started off better for nearly 500,000 Illinois residents who have had their lives unnecessarily hindered for utilizing cannabis as Governor JB Pritzker announced that 492,129 cannabis-related arrest records have been expunged by the Illinois State Police. This is such welcome news for people that have had to suffer through Reefer Madness-inspired penalties that hurt people’s ability to get a job, find housing, and earn a better education. As more and more states move away from the failed and racist policy of prohibition, it is extremely important that we remember those harmed by the Drug War and do what we can to repair the damage caused by ignorance, bigotry, and greed by special interests that have profited from the War on Drugs.

Illinois’ Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA) has given the state government until 2025 to expunge low-level cannabis arrest and conviction records, but in a somewhat surprising move for government, the Pritzker administration is ahead of schedule. The Governor’s office had this to say in a press release announcing the expungements:

“Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past—and the decency to set a better path forward. I applaud the Prisoner Review Board, the Illinois State Police, and our partners across the state for their extraordinary efforts that allowed these pardons and expungements to become a reality.”
 
The CRTA requires cannabis-related arrest records created between 2013 and 2019 be expunged by January 1, 2021, a total of 47,000 records. With the expungement of all 492,129 cannabis arrest records, ISP is four years ahead of the January 1, 2025 statutory deadline for completing automatic expungements. While the expungement process has been completed at the state level, county clerks are still processing expungements at the local level. Arrest records from DuPage, Kane, Knox, Lake, McHenry, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, Will, and Winnebago Counties have been expunged at the local level. The remaining counties have until January 1, 2025 to expunge their arrest records.  
 
“As we near the end of the first year of Illinois’ new legal cannabis industry, I am heartened by the progress we have made towards undoing the harms dealt by the failed war on drugs. Eleven states in the nation have legalized cannabis for recreational use, but no other state has done the important work we’re doing here in Illinois, where equity intentionality takes center stage,” said Toi Hutchinson, Senior Advisor to the Governor on Cannabis Control. “We are one year into what will be an ongoing effort to correct historic wrongdoings. The administration remains committed to working with legislators to address any challenges to equity and on building an industry that re-invests in our state’s communities.”

One of the issues facing advocates fighting for cannabis legalization is “how” to legalize. I respect many viewpoints that folks have, but personally contend that ending criminal penalties for the cannabis community should be the number one priority. After ending damaging arrests and convictions, it is imperative that we lift up those that have had their lives hurt by prohibition and clearing their criminal records is a necessary foundation of that.

Here in Oregon, we immediately improved expungement laws regarding cannabis convictions following legalization, but we must do more. Too many people are unaware that their records can be expunged or they may lack the resources to submit the necessary paperwork as there are filing fees and some may need to hire an attorney to assist them. Oregon is a pioneer in cannabis law reform, but we can still learn from others. We need to learn from Illinois and other states that have made expungement automatic. Those with Oregon records, can check their eligibility for expungement here with RecordSponge, courtesy of the Qui Qui Law Firm.

Our cannabis tax dollars do a lot of good, especially when we support local businesses, and it’s time that those dollars help repair some of the wrongs of the Drug War. We can be proud that we are setting aside funding for schools and providing more drug treatment and recovery programs, but we need to always remember those harmed by the war on cannabis and utilize our resources in righting some wrongs of our prohibition past as well.