Credit Where Credit is Due

Opinion: Former Gov. Kate Brown’s Pardon

Written by Dominic Adams. Illustration by Dani DeGraw. Legality Edition 2023.

In Green Eugene’s last edition, we published an article bemoaning the lack of substantive action taken by President Joe Biden in his highly publicized pardoning of individuals convicted of cannabis possession at the federal level. His declaration was ultimately a disappointment because it resulted in not a single individual actually leaving prison, only expunging the records of about 6,500, according to Assistant White House Press Secretary Kevin Munoz. This is because the federal government has not charged simple possession of cannabis since 2021, and the crime carries a maximum sentence of 1 year in prison and a maximum of 3 years for repeat convictions, according to the United States Sentencing Commission. The commission further reports that as of Jan. 2022 there were no people in federal prison for simple possession of cannabis despite the fact that Biden’s pardon was announced in Oct. 2022. In addition to his pardon, Biden called on the nation’s governors to take the same action and announced that the scheduling of cannabis as a Schedule I substance would be under review. 

Notably, former Ore. Gov. Kate Brown enacted a pardon of her own on Nov. 21, 2022 that pardoned 47,144 individuals convicted of possessing an ounce or less of cannabis. This act greatly eclipses Biden’s presidential pardon in terms of scope and scale. This is certainly a cause for some celebration, especially considering that other states such as Colorado, Nevada, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington have all enacted some form of pardoning system for low-level cannabis crimes since Biden’s call to action. 

Since 2018, state governments have pardoned or expunged the records of approximately 1.7 million people for low-level cannabis crimes. A path exists to attain a pardon or otherwise have a conviction of this nature expunged in 24 of our 50 states, according to the Nation Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). These states have made a significant impact on the number of people imprisoned wrongfully for cannabis, but the ultimate irony is that as of February 2023, cannabis has yet to be rescheduled. shockingly, the application to receive a federal pardon under Biden’s proclamation is still not available, according to the Department of Justice. 

We here at Green Eugene hope to see this rectified in the coming months, but until it is, the only plaudits deserved are those directed toward the state and local officials who responded to Biden’s call to action and enacted substantive change in the lives of those harmed by our nation’s War on Drugs.

“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.”

– Gov. Kate brown

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