When a state legalizes cannabis, there is one problem that does not seem to get the attention it deserves when considering the changes to come: Marijuana convictions for crimes that would no longer be considered crimes.
These records are not simply tossed because the new laws contradict the old ones – especially since federal law still conflicts with more progressive state laws – so that means a number of people still have records, and some are even still incarcerated, even after prohibition has ended in their state.
In Colorado, where cannabis has been legal for adult use, sale and cultivation has been legal since voters approved it by ballot measure in 2012, this issue is finally being discussed. Monday morning, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said that he had attended an unofficial meeting regarding dismissing marijuana convictions for non-violent offenders.
If this were to happen, those who were truly innocent of any crime other than having, growing or selling marijuana, may soon find their sentence cut short and their records wiped clean.
“It’s roughly 40 cases where we can be absolutely sure there was no violence involved in the sentencing,” Hickenlooper told Cheddar. “For several of the people, a number of them, it was multiple times that they’d been arrested and prosecuted for marijuana or marijuana sales.”
That means that there are at least 40 cases that they know already would qualify to be dismissed if these plans move forward – and with plans to go over each case individually, there is a good chance that many more who were incarcerated prior to the implementation of legalization will find themselves freed sooner than intended.
Also, recently announced is San Francisco, California, where legal sales started the first of the year, is a plan to throw out prior cannabis convictions – dating back to 1975. It was not specified whether Colorado is only looking to dismiss charges of those incarcerated, or both those type of charges and those who still hold criminal records outside of prison or jail – or how far back they would look.
“This country spends $80 billion a year if you include jails and prisons, all the kinds of incarceration,” Governor Hickenlooper said. “This is maybe an example of a place where we can take some of the people that have been locked up and get them out in short order, get them back onto, hopefully out onto the streets … getting a job and contributing to society.”
If all 9 states that have legalized cannabis were to free and expunge the records of those who were convicted of non-violent marijuana related crimes it would certainly add up into hundreds of thousands. As states continue to legalize cannabis and move towards a regulated and more sensible policy, hopefully lawmakers will remember not to forget about those who continue to suffer the harms of prohibition.