How Does Recreational Cannabis Legalization Impact the Future of Medical Cannabis?
by Chane Leigh
The racial disparity in the way cannabis laws have been applied has led to the conviction of a disproportionately high number of People of Color for cannabis-related crimes. Because of this, the “War on Drugs” actually manifested as a war on communities of color that took a shocking toll.
Now that legislation is being passed to move toward broader legalization, the crimes of which many were convicted in prior decades are no longer considered criminal at all. And it’s for that reason that many states are moving to expunge the convictions of minor cannabis-related offenses, wiping clean the criminal records of those who were penalized in an attempt to make things right.
Colorado has recently taken a bold step forward in its attempt to erase the convictions of the past.
The recent measures in Colorado are far from the first that have been taken to expunge crimes relating to cannabis. “We call it reparative justice: repairing the harms caused by the war on drugs,” says Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance. Reparative justice is also available in the states of California, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Illinois, Oregon, and Maryland.
Illinois, for example, has focused its efforts on those convicted of nonviolent crimes involving less than a certain amount of cannabis. Illinoisans qualifying for the program are able to have their infractions wiped from their record and can go forward with their lives as if the charges against them had never happened. This makes it easier to secure employment, to sign a lease, and to navigate life generally.
In California, thousands of criminal charges have already been expunged, which is fantastic news for those who have been living with those charges on their records. But there is concern over how quickly expungement requests can be processed—California wants to see its citizens’ records cleared in their lifetimes. The government is working hard to get through the many requests it has to process.
In North Dakota, the problem is a little different—not everyone is applying for the expungement opportunity. The general feeling is that the application is too complicated to deal with and that some residents who could benefit may not know about it in the first place. So even though the opportunity is there, not everyone is taking advantage of it.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis has cut through a lot of red tape with a recent decision to pardon a class of offenders automatically. The new Colorado pardon covered nearly 3000 low-level offenders, none of whom had to file applications or even involve themselves in the pardoning process. With the signing of a single executive order, Polis quickly cleared their records. These Colorado citizens won’t face the bureaucratic rigmarole that Californians had to deal with, nor will they have to worry about the complicated applications that scared off North Dakotans.
The pardons went to those convicted at the state level of crimes involving one ounce of cannabis or less, though they did not deal with crimes at the municipal level. Colorado residents can reach out to the state government to determine whether their own personal convictions were included in the pardon or not.
If more states begin to follow Colorado’s example, as we hope they will, we’ll see the expungement of past cannabis crimes begin to move a lot more quickly in the future. Fortunately, Colorado has always been a trendsetter when it comes to cannabis in the US, so there’s definitely a reason to hope that they’ve set the bar for us all once again.
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