Nearly 2 million cannabis convictions cleared in the United States in the last 5 years

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According to a new analysis by NORML, the American pro-legalization association, American states have erased nearly 2 million convictions for minor cannabis offenses in the last 5 years.

Federal interest in expunging cannabis convictions has grown since President Joe Biden issued a massive cannabis pardon in October, pardoning several thousand Americans for federal offenses of possession and encouraging state governors to follow the administration’s lead.

For while the presidential action is seen by human rights advocates as a step in the right direction, its reach is very limited, largely because the vast majority of cannabis cases take place at the level of the State and therefore do not fall within the competence of the President.

Some governors took amnesty steps in the weeks following Joe Biden’s mass pardon, but many other local and state officials had already taken similar steps before the president even intervened.

A recent report published by NORML last week examines public data in the United States, showing how officials have granted approximately 100,000 pardons and 1.7 million criminal records expunged since 2018.

Among states that have already moved on the matter, Nevada, under Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, pardoned more than 15,000 people who had been convicted of low-level cannabis possession in 2020.

In 2019, Democratic Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced that people with criminal records that included misdemeanor cannabis possession convictions were eligible for an expedited pardon. He estimated that 3,500 Washington residents would qualify for this relief.

A day before the launch of legal cannabis sales in Illinois in 2020, Democratic Governor JB Pritzker announced that his office was pardoning more than 11,000 people who had previously been convicted of simple possession of cannabis.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) announced last year that he had granted 1,351 pardons for convictions for possession of two ounces or less of cannabis (56 grams). Previously, he signed an executive order granting nearly 3,000 pardons to people convicted of possessing one ounce of cannabis or less.

The Governor of Oregon recently granted a mass pardon for cannabis possession offenses at the state level, which will provide relief to approximately 45,000 people – a decision she described as “a true act of clemency” and which was hailed by Biden.

“While amnesties offer some level of forgiveness for past crimes, they are not the same as record expungements, which seal past convictions from public view,” NORML’s report states. “To facilitate the latter, lawmakers in many states have in recent years enacted laws offering explicit avenues to expunge the records of those who have been convicted of minor cannabis offenses. »

“In some cases, those eligible for erasure assistance are not required to take action,” the report continues. “Instead, state officials automatically review past records and notify those that meet the state’s criteria for erasure. In other cases, state law requires individuals seeking expungement of their criminal records to file a petition with the courts to have their records reviewed and expunged. »

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