About 45,000 people previously convicted of marijuana possession in Oregon will be pardoned and $14 million in fines forgiven, the Governor’s Office announced Monday.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is pardoning the 47,144 convictions for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana going back several decades.
Criminal convictions, even for possessing small amounts of marijuana that would be legal now, can be barriers to employment, housing and education.
“No one deserves to be forever saddled with the impacts of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana — a crime that is no longer on the books in Oregon,” Brown said in a statement Monday. “Oregonians should never face housing insecurity, employment barriers, and educational obstacles as a result of doing something that is now completely legal, and has been for years. My pardon will remove these hardships.”
She noted that while all Oregonians use marijuana at similar rates, Black and Latino people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of marijuana possession at disproportionate rates.
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union applauded Brown’s action on Monday, saying her move followed an important step by President Joe Biden last month to pardon thousands of people nationwide of federal convictions for marijuana possession.
Officials with the ACLU of Oregon said Brown is the first governor take this action on pardoning.
Sandy Chung, executive director of ACLU of Oregon, said they were grateful for Brown’s use of clemency to address the state’s outdated and racially-biased practices, including policies from the failed “War on Drugs.”
“The path to justice is through our values of equity, care and humanity — not vengeance or criminalization,” Chung said.
According to the Governor’s Office, the pardon applies to electronically available Oregon convictions for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in pre-2016 cases in which the person was 21 years of age or older, where this was the only charge, and where there were no victims.
This pardon does not apply to any other offense related to marijuana or other controlled substances.
Following Brown’s pardon, the Oregon Judicial Department will ensure that all court records associated with the pardoned offenses are sealed. About $14 million in unpaid court fines and fees associated with the pardoned convictions will be forgiven.
The pardoned marijuana convictions will no longer show up on background checks of public court records, but the conviction may show up on background checks conducted by law enforcement officials or licensing authorities as a pardoned conviction.
Brown said the pardons were a step toward creating a more equitable future for many Oregonians.
“We are a state, and a nation, of second chances,” she said. “Today, I am taking steps to right the wrongs of a flawed, inequitable, and outdated criminal justice system in Oregon when it comes to personal marijuana possession. For the estimated 45,000 individuals who are receiving a pardon for prior state convictions of marijuana possession, this action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”
Jessica Maravilla, policy director of ACLU of Oregon, said by eliminating $14 million in fines and fees, Brown is breaking down a massive barrier many have to housing, schooling, and jobs.
“For low-income communities and people of color, they can result in continued entanglement in the criminal legal system,” she said. “The Governor’s forgiveness of $14,000,000 in fines and fees is a significant step in addressing unjust systemic burdens created by prior convictions — especially, in this case, for a crime that no longer exists.”