SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced Monday that she will pardon an estimated 45,000 people for simple marijuana possession offenses, removing 47,144 convictions and forgiving more than $14 million total in fines and fees.
The pardon applies to electronically available Oregon convictions for possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana in pre-2016 cases where the person was at least 21 years old. There have to have been no other charges and no victims related to that case, according to a news release from Brown's office.
"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.
A conviction on a person's record creates barriers to housing, employment and education, she added, and Black and Latino people have been arrested and convicted for possession at disproportionate rates despite similar rates of marijuana usage.
After the pardon is issued, the Oregon Judicial Department will work to ensure that all court records associated with the offenses are sealed, according to the news release.
“It’s another good step and righting the wrongs in an unconscionable drug war that's cost too many people their livelihood,” said Anthony Johnson, an advocate for marijuana law reform. Johnson was chief petitioner of Measure 91 which voters passed in 2014, legalizing cannabis in Oregon. Eight years later, Johnson said there's still a stigma around the drug and obstacles around career advancement, housing and educational opportunities. He finds it a bit ironic.
“That now the state is generating hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, we're creating jobs, people are making money off of it,” said Johnson. “To expunge those past convictions is really common sense and it's the right thing to do but really it's just the next step in moving forward to do this for more and more people.”
President Joe Biden issued a similar pardon in early October, eliminating thousands of federal convictions of simple possession. His stated rationale for the decision was similar to Brown's, and he urged the nation's governors to consider issuing similar pardons for state-level convictions.
Marijuana became legal in Oregon in 2015, which is why Brown's order targets pre-2016 convictions. It remains illegal at the federal level, and Biden's pardon didn't change that, although he did say he would ask the secretary of Health and Human Services and the attorney general to review how the drug is classified. Congressman Earl Blumenauer said he supports those continued efforts.
“There’s a certain irony that Oregon was the first state to decriminalize possession of a small amount of cannabis. We have nonetheless ensnared tens of thousands of people in this failed war on drugs," said Blumenauer. "The Governor’s decision to wipe the slate clean for almost 45,000 people is welcome... I hope that other states follow suit to promote justice, equity, and rational policy.”
Brown's pardon comes as she heads into her final weeks as Governor of Oregon. Her term ends in January, when she will be succeeded by Governor-Elect Tina Kotek.