After Legalization, Why Can’t People’s Prior Pot Convictions Be Wiped Clean?

Marijuana won in November’s midterm elections, with Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia joining Colorado and Washington in legalizing it. But it’s a bittersweet victory for people who have a prior cannabis conviction for doing something that is now legal in their state. For now, efforts to clear pot marks from people’s records in states that have legalized the drug are facing uphill battles.

“It’s pretty much ruined my life at this point,” Aaron Pickel (below), who was busted in Oregon for carrying two to three pounds of pot-infused edibles, told the Oregonian. “I’ve tried pretty hard to find work, and when you’re going against people who have nothing on their record and you do, you’re not going to get it.” Pickel’s California medical marijuana card didn’t get him out of the charges. Although he was slapped with only a $200 fine and no jail time, the 33-year-old now has a felony rap—and stays in his mother’s spare bedroom.

People who have been convicted of misdemeanor and lesser charges for possessing the drug often have a hard time securing housing, jobs and education. Proponents of “expungement”—wiping records clean—argue that the voters of these states made it clear that possessing small amounts of marijuana should not be illegal and therefore people who have prior convictions should get a second chance. Opponents argue that people should abide by laws until they are changed.

The expungement debate does not address the plight of people currently serving time for nonviolent cannabis crimes, however. The ballot measures that legalized pot allow people to carry only small amounts—in the case of Oregon’s Measure 91, up to an ounce. Before the passage of these measures, these amounts wouldn’t be cause to lock someone up in prison—in Oregon, it resulted in a violation and a fine. Someone would need to possess up to four ounces to be charged with a felony. Carrying four ounces is still illegal under Measure 91.

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  1. Low Rider on

    Hi Steve! I feel so much safer with you watching over me.

  2. Low Rider on

    Edibles would obviously weigh more than bud. To add a comment here is an exorcise in frustration.

  3. Anonymous on

    It’s all about the disenfranchisement of the poor and color.