Since 2018, more than 2.3 million cannabis-related convictions have been pardoned or expunged in the United States, according to a recent analysis. This considerable number suggests a significant shift in policy and societal attitudes towards cannabis offenses, with an estimated half a million such events occurring in the past year alone.
Pardons and Expungements: A Path Towards Social Justice
The difference between pardon and expungement is essential to understand. Pardons are granted by elected officials such as governors or presidents, forgiving previous criminal convictions and permitting individuals to regain several rights lost due to their convictions. On the other hand, expungement entails the sealing of past convictions from public records, effectively erasing the history of those offenses. These measures result from legislation or voter initiatives aimed at addressing past injustices or prosecuting victimless crimes.
Policy Changes Key to Addressing Cannabis Convictions
Significant policy changes have contributed to this wave of pardons and expungements. Some states illustrate these changes through substantial numbers of sealed cannabis convictions. For instance, Illinois state officials successfully sealed around 800,000 convictions, while New Jersey and Virginia each saw over 300,000 cases sealed. Furthermore, California and New York achieved similar outcomes for roughly 200,000 convictions apiece.
President Joe Biden played an active role in advocating for these measures. In December, he called upon state governors to pardon state-level cannabis possession charges. Previously, Biden had requested that all federal convictions for simple cannabis possession be expunged by October 2022. His initiatives indicate a strong desire to promote both social justice and the decriminalization of cannabis possession at various levels of government.
Support for Federal Cannabis Legalization Hits Record High
A recent survey revealed that 70% of Americans now support federal cannabis legalization, marking an all-time high for this issue and indicating a significant change in public opinion over time. This increased acceptance can help fuel further policy changes and contribute to the growing number of pardoned or expunged convictions.
The Importance of Rectifying Injustices Stemming from Cannabis Prohibition
NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano highlighted the necessity of addressing the wrongs caused by cannabis prohibition and criminalization as quickly as possible. He emphasized the importance of principles of justice and fairness, indicating that rectifying these injustices must remain a priority for lawmakers in order to promote societal equity.
Cannabis Convictions: Impact on Individuals and Communities
The ongoing war on drugs has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities and individuals with low-income backgrounds. For many, having a cannabis conviction on their record can severely limit opportunities for housing, employment, and education. Consequently, pardoning or expunging these convictions can significantly improve the lives of those affected. For example, some states provide educational opportunities and assistance programs for individuals with pardoned or expunged convictions, opening doors to new possibilities and allowing them to rejoin society while reducing recidivism rates.
Future Prospects: Challenges and Continued Progress Towards Equity
While advances have been made in pardoning or expunging cannabis-related convictions, there is still much work to be done. State governments face logistical challenges in identifying and processing eligible cases, requiring efficient systems to ensure that all who qualify for relief receive it.
Furthermore, continued efforts must also focus on addressing the underlying issues at play in cannabis prohibition. For instance, policymakers need to address racial disparities when considering legislation or initiatives involving decriminalization or legalization. This involves taking a comprehensive approach to reform while ensuring fairness and equity moving forward.
A United Front: Public Officials, Advocacy Organizations, and Communities Working Together
There has been a significant push towards pardoning and expunging cannabis-related convictions across different states in recent years due to policy changes and increased public support. The ongoing collaboration between public officials, advocacy organizations, and impacted communities is vital to continue making progress and promoting justice for those affected by cannabis prohibition. By working together, these groups can help create a more equitable future for millions of citizens whose lives have been impacted by cannabis-related offenses as the nation continues its march towards accepting cannabis use.