As Marijuana Legalization Goes Underway, What Happens to Pot Convicts?

091515_As Marijuana Legalization Goes Underway, What Happens to Pot Convicts 

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For Americans, legalizing marijuana has a number of advantages, including proper regulation for youth use, raising revenue for schools and drug treatment, easing the black market for weed, and trimming down the number of non-violent convicts in prison.

Unfortunately, these legalization initiatives do not affect old convictions, which affect around four million Americans. Even in states that have now legalized weed, the records of old convicts continue to haunt them.

Take Lucy for example. In 2012, the certified nurse assistant (CNA) and single mom of two was riding a train home when a mentally disturbed woman started shouting at her. Police officers intervened, investigated both of them, and caught a few pot joints in Lucy’s purse.

She only spent four days in jail, but the stigma hurt her more: she lost her job, had her driver’s license suspended, was sentenced to 10 months of probation, and charged her over $5,000 in costs and fees. Up to now, she is deemed ineligible for federal loans, food stamps, and public housing. Employers didn’t want to hire her for her criminal record, and she was always afraid of having her CNA license and educational financial assistance revoked, even though she finished probation without incident.

It’s a tougher world for her from then on.

Retroactive relief laws can help

Other developed countries apply retroactive relief automatically anytime a previously forbidden activity is declared legal, but that’s not the case in the States. But even if it isn’t automatic, it is still a possible solution, since some states already have a track record in allowing people to expunge old and minor convictions from their records. Why not do the same for non-violent, low-level pot offenses?

Oregon is already on its way to doing that, providing retroactive relief for marijuana users convicted before they were 21 years old. If Senate Bill 855 gets passed, Oregon will be the first of four legal marijuana states to offer retroactive relief.

One of the advantages of retroactive relief is that it alleviates the racial injustices of the past, since black neighborhoods has long been targeted for drug-related offenses, even though both black and white Americans use weed at similar rates.

It also allows a large share of Americans to clean their criminal records, providing them better opportunities for employment and thus benefiting society as a whole. It can also boost the nation’s economy, since employed people have more money for spending. In fact, according to Charles Koch, eliminating mass incarceration can reduce America’s poverty rate by 30 percent.

But for now, Lucy is thankful that she is lucky. She has landed another CNA position and makes $14 per hour. However, the lack of retroactive relief could still mar her chances of becoming a registered nurse, as she previously planned.

“In 10 years, I probably won’t be in nursing,” Lucy said.

Do you agree that retroactive relief should be given to marijuana convicts? Voice your opinions in the comments section below – your opinion matters to the nation.

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