Oregon sets example on marijuana conviction­s

Outdated laws at odds with acceptance of pot

- Carli Pierson Carli Pierson, a New York licensed attorney, is a member of the USA TODAY Editorial Board. Follow her on Twitter: @CarliPiers­onEsq

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recently announced that she will pardon 47,144 people who were convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Brown is the first governor in the country to take such an action, although President Joe Biden announced in October that he was pardoning people with federal conviction­s of simple marijuana possession.

In a country with permissive cannabis laws in many states – and with strong support among the American public for legalizati­on – no one in the USA should have their lives ruined for possessing marijuana.

Brown clearly realized this and is ensuring that Oregonians with conviction­s for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana aren’t held back any longer.

Other states should follow suit.

The costs of inequality

Today, 37 states, four U.S. territorie­s and Washington, D.C., allow for medical marijuana use.

Recreation­al possession and use is allowed for adults in 19 states.

Despite such widespread acceptance of marijuana use, nearly half of drug busts still involve cannabis.

And although Black and white people use marijuana at about the same rate, Black Americans are significan­tly more likely to be arrested than their white counterpar­ts, even in states where pot is legal. Similarly, Black mothers are more likely than white mothers to have their children taken away from them for marijuana use.

The disconnect between Americans’ acceptance of marijuana and how outdated laws are enforced begs for action.

A conviction for possessing even a small amount can present a significan­t hurdle to employment, access to housing and education.

Government, family budgets

Economists say enforcemen­t of cannabis laws also is expensive. A 2018 CATO Institute report found that state and federal government­s could redirect significan­t amounts of money to meet other needs if criminaliz­ation of marijuana use ended. Budgets also might swell with new tax dollars collected from legal marijuana sales.

When Brown announced her pardon for Oregonians convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana, she also announced that about $14 million in fines will be forgiven. That’s money families struggling with soaring food and energy prices can keep.

More states should follow Biden and Brown’s examples and pardon low-level, nonviolent marijuana conviction­s.

It’s the right, and smart, thing to do.


This is part of a series by USA TODAY Opinion about police accountabi­lity and building safer communitie­s. The project began in 2021 by examining qualified immunity and continues in 2022 by examining various ways to improve law enforcemen­t. The project is made possible in part by a grant from Stand Together, which does not provide editorial input.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States