New Jersey Gives Licensing Priority to Convicted Offenders

New Jersey is making headlines with their policy of prioritizing folks with prior cannabis convictions when it comes to working legally in the industry. 

While putting social equity first and allowing people of color and those affected by the War on Drugs a chance to enter the industry is nothing new, this state is taking things one step further and actually giving priority to those with convictions. 

According to a video by VOA News, Tahir Johnson and Jon Dockery, two lifelong friends, have been arrested multiple times for cannabis possession. Now, thanks to this new law, they will be some of the first who will be able to sell cannabis legally in the state. 

The program was set up by New Jersey’s cannabis regulatory commission, and it also creates priority status for other folks, including minority-, woman-, disabled-, and veteran-owned businesses certified as such by the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, and those who have businesses owned by folks located in an impact zone, a low-income area more impacted by the War on Drugs.

Then there is the social equity piece. This includes businesses owned by people who live in economically disadvantaged areas of the state, as well as those who have expunged or non-expunged prior cannabis convictions. 

“Social equity businesses, diversely owned businesses, and impact zone businesses will be prioritized in the licensure process so that their applications are reviewed before other applicants—regardless of when they apply,” the state’s website explains. “Applications from entities that meet criteria for more than one priority status will be reviewed, scored, and approved in accordance with the status of highest priority.” 

Johnson and Dockery received two of the 11 priority licenses given out so far because of prior cannabis convictions. Both men have been arrested multiple times for cannabis possession. 

“We’ve been arrested for cannabis, and now we have a chance to share in the market and the wealth being created here,” Dockery says regarding their second chance and their new foray into the industry. 

According to the ACLU, Black people are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis use, possession, and sale. This is why many states are taking this disparity into account when it comes to laws and regulation. 

Wesley McWhite of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission says in the video, “We wanted to make sure that we are addressing the negative social impact of cannabis prohibition, so it was important to make sure that those who have the most barriers have an easier time getting licenses and into the industry.”

However, not everyone is happy with this rule. Unsurprisingly, a police group spoke out against this allowance. Patrick Phelan of the New York Association of Chiefs of Police feels that doing this is “rewarding if not encouraging criminal activity.”

Of course, this argument ignores the fact that most people would much rather have never gotten a life-impacting cannabis conviction, whether or not it helps them get into the legal industry now, and that the whole point of measures like this is to rebuild a society in which cannabis is a legitimate industry and not a criminal one.  

New Jersey’s closest neighbor, New York, has set aside a social equity fund of $20 million for similar reasons, hoping to rebuild an industry in the image of the folks who were the most impacted. 

While this will in no way completely erase the harm done by the War on Drugs in New Jersey, it is a positive step towards filling the industry with the folks who are already familiar with it and suffered because of illegal cannabis in the past. 

The post New Jersey Gives Licensing Priority to Convicted Offenders appeared first on High Times.

New Yorkers Attempt to Clear Names for Plant That is Now Legal

As adult-use cannabis thrives in New York, some residents say their lives are still ruined due to past cannabis convictions that haunt their records. While programs are in place to clear certain types of records, lawyers worry the state isn’t doing enough.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) passed last year, and under the MRTA, certain people can ask the court to vacate their convictions if they are experiencing “severe or ongoing consequences related to either their conviction or the sentence,” according to the law.

To date, the state expunged or suppressed search results for nearly 400,000 cannabis-related convictions. Plus last March, the New York State Cannabis Control Board voted unanimously to propose regulations to allow the first couple hundred retail licenses to be given to people convicted of cannabis-related crimes.

Still, certain cases are being denied by county district attorney offices in the state. On June 22, Syracuse.com and NY Cannabis Insider profiled some New York cases involving people who are still trying to clear their name but not finding any luck. In some cases, small details such as the amount of cannabis can make all the difference in the expungement process.

Lawyers say everyone with a cannabis-related conviction faces “severe or ongoing consequences.”

“I cannot imagine an instance where a prior marijuana conviction does not cause severe or ongoing consequences,” said Wei Hu, an attorney and founder of MRTA Law who is representing two clients as their applications to vacate are being opposed by the Nassau and Dutchess County DA offices.

Nassau County DA’s office wrote that due to the amounts of cannabis involved, those particular crimes would still be a crime today. The Dutchess County DA’s office provided a similar argument.

But lawyers like Hu say the state isn’t doing enough to erase cannabis convictions from the past, often over minor discrepancies. And the consequences can ruin a person’s career.

“It impacts the family, it impacts personal relationships, it impacts your professional ones, it disenfranchises people from voting, it keeps people out of public housing, it disables them from sustainable employment, and it’s one of the most pernicious laws that still exists when you now have legal and regulated sales,” said Hu.

“It’s really distasteful.”

In other words, it’s hypocritical for New Yorkers on one hand to get rich while others are still facing the consequences of the failed War on Drugs.

New York officials have less than a year to finish automatic expungements, but only certain types of crimes are eligible. “If you were convicted of violating Sections 221.05, 221.10, 221.15, 221.20, 221.35, or 221.40 of the Penal Law, you are entitled to automatic expungement and sealing,” the law states. “These convictions currently will not appear in a criminal history search requested through the Courts or the Division of Criminal Justice Services. Automatic expungement of these charges will be completed on or before March 31, 2023.”

Other States Take the Lead in Expungement Process Improvements

States like Colorado and Illinois are making improvements to their expungement systems.

In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 99 into law on May 31, where automatic expungements are not part of the program. It further expands and streamlines the state’s automatic record sealing process. He also used his executive authority to pardon several thousand Coloradans convicted of low-level cannabis offenses.

In Illinois, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 4392, amending state law so that the courts are no longer able to deny petitioners’ requests to have their criminal records expunged solely because of a cannabis-related drug test failure.

New York still has the potential to improve its expungement processes.

The post New Yorkers Attempt to Clear Names for Plant That is Now Legal appeared first on High Times.

Wisconsin Governor Pardons Several With Cannabis Convictions

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Friday announced dozens of new pardons, including nine for individuals previously convicted for cannabis-related offenses.

“There is power in redemption and forgiveness, especially for folks who’ve been working to move beyond their past mistakes to be productive, positive members of their communities,” Evers said in a statement. “I’m grateful for being able to give a second chance to these individuals who’ve worked hard to do just that.”

Evers, the first-term Democrat, has now “granted more pardons during his first three years in office than any other governor in contemporary history,” according to a release from his office, which said that he has granted a total of 498 pardons since taking office in 2019.

The nine individuals previously busted for pot-related offenses who received a pardon on Friday include Danielle Arrigo, who “was 22 when she twice sold marijuana to a confidential informant,” and “now resides in Burlington with her daughter and has earned her associate degree.”

There was also Jeremy Busch, who “was pulled over for suspected drunk driving” 22 years ago when “police discovered he had been drinking and smoking marijuana.” Busch was 18 at that time.

“Now 22 years later, he resides in Genoa City and has obtained an associate and bachelor’s degree in the fields of civil engineering and architecture, graduating magna cum laude,” according to the governor’s office.

Per the Friday announcement from Evers’s office, the following individuals with marijuana-related convictions were also pardoned: “Christina Darby was 22 when officers found marijuana in her home. She has since moved to California with her children, earned an associate degree, and works as a property manager.”; “Gary Davis, Jr. was around 20 years old when he was found in possession of marijuana and other controlled substances. Three decades later, he now resides in Madison and has worked as a youth/juvenile counselor with local social services organizations.”; “Henry Hong was 20 when he sold a controlled substance and was also found in possession of marijuana and a stolen pistol. He now resides in Raeford, North Carolina, where he owns a restaurant and has earned a master’s degree.”; “John Jezuit was a teenager when he punched someone while on probation for selling marijuana. Nearly two decades later, he now resides in Madison and has earned his bachelor’s degree in social welfare.”; “Travis Nelson was 18 when he sold marijuana to a confidential informant. He now resides in Denmark with his family and founded his own trucking business over 13 years ago.”; “Lawrence Riche was 20 when officers found marijuana in his residence, and several years later, he was again found with marijuana, controlled substances, and firearms. Now 40 years later, he resides in Menomonee Falls, has remained sober, and has maintained long-term employment as a steamfitter.” 

As the governor’s announcement on Friday explained, a pardon “does not expunge court records,” but it is “an official act of forgiveness that restores rights lost when someone is convicted of a felony, including the right to serve on a jury, hold public office, and hold certain professional licenses.”

For Evers, who is up for re-election this year, the pardons are consistent with repeated calls for cannabis reform in the Badger State. Last year, Evers’ budget proposal included a plan to legalize medical and recreational cannabis use, both of which are against the law in Wisconsin.

In February, Evers vetoed a Republican-backed measure that would have instituted new penalties in Wisconsin for manufacturing and distributing cannabis or resin by butane extraction.

“It is widely accepted, and, indeed, research over the course of the last decade confirms, that marijuana criminalization has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially in Wisconsin where have long-standing racial disparities in incarceration rates,” Evers said in his veto statement at the time.

The post Wisconsin Governor Pardons Several With Cannabis Convictions appeared first on High Times.

Cleveland Officials File Motions to Expunge 4,000 Cannabis Convictions

City officials in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday filed motions to expunge more than 4,000 misdemeanor convictions for past cannabis offenses, making good on a 2020 ordinance to reform the city’s cannabis policy. 

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb announced the filing of the expungement motions at an event held at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center. The mayor, appearing with Cleveland assistant chief prosecutor Aqueelah Jordan, council president Blaine Griffin, and law director Mark Griffin, told reporters that it was a historic day for the people of Cleveland.

“Today’s event shows our commitment in the city of Cleveland to advancing criminal justice reform,” Bibb told reporters. “But it also gives folks all across the city and across this region a second chance at getting a good job and the quality of life that they deserve.”

At the event, the officials presented the expungement motions to the clerks at the Cleveland Municipal Court located at the county justice center. The motions cover 4,077 misdemeanor weed cases for possession of 200 grams (about seven ounces) or less of cannabis dating back to 2017.

“This is the natural progression of what we (at council) wanted to see; first to decriminalize, then to have records expunged. Before we passed the legislation, we put together a working group with activists and criminal justice experts,” Griffin said in a statement from the city council. “As more and more states legalized marijuana, we wanted to position the city in that direction. For me, this has always been about criminal justice reform.”

Reform Ordinance Passed Two Years Ago

Cleveland officials filed the expungement motions in response to a 2020 city council ordinance to reform cannabis policy that eliminated the threat of fines and jail time for possessing less than 200 grams of cannabis. Under Ohio state law, possession of up to 100 grams of cannabis carries a fine of up to $150, while possessing between 100 and 200 grams is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $250.

While reviewing past weed cases, the prosecutor’s office identified 455 individuals who were mistakenly charged after the passage of the 2020 ordinance. Those charges were in addition to the thousands of cases since 2017 that prosecutors have determined are eligible for expungement.

“Today, we are moving forward with a motion to expunge all cases of minor misdemeanor marijuana possession to honor the City’s legislation and eliminate criminal consequences,” said Jordan, who also called on the state of Ohio to expand its cannabis reform efforts to include recreational cannabis. Currently, the state has a limited medical weed program for patients with certain qualifying medical conditions.

City officials noted that last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, a bill to decriminalize cannabis at the national level and expunge past federal cannabis convictions. But local measures can help move the process along.

“We are seeing progress in Washington on this issue, but it’s slow. There are immediate steps we can take right now in Cleveland to clear the names of over 4,000 residents who deserve a fresh start,” Bibb said in the statement from the city. “This is just one way we can make progress on criminal justice reform to balance the scales and remove barriers to employment and re-entry.” 

The expungement motions filed by the city will be considered by presiding judge Michelle Earley and other judges of the Cleveland Municipal Court. The court is expected to hold hearings on the motions before approving the expungements, which are not automatic under the new ordinance.

“The judges have the right to rule on the motions and we will respect those rights,” Jordan said. “Our judges are very busy, and we are going to be very supportive of whatever time they need.”

The post Cleveland Officials File Motions to Expunge 4,000 Cannabis Convictions appeared first on High Times.

First Dispensary Licenses in New York Go to Those with Pot Convictions

Cannabis regulators in New York revealed that at least 100 of the state’s first licenses for adult-use cannabis retailers will go to applicants with past pot-related convictions. The policy, which was announced on Thursday by New York Governor Kathy Hochul, would also apply to applicants with family members convicted of cannabis-related offenses.

Chris Alexander, the executive director of the New York Office of Cannabis Management, told the New York Times that by concentrating on “those who otherwise would have been left behind,” the state is in a “position to do something that has not been done before.” He said that he expects between 100 and 200 of the first recreational dispensary licenses will be issued to applicants with convictions for cannabis-related offenses or to those with “a parent, guardian, child, spouse or dependent” with such a conviction.

“These ‘justice involved’ individuals will be eligible for four-year conditional retail licenses to sell cannabis in the adult-use market,” explained Michelle Bodian, co-chair of the hemp and cannabinoids department of the law firm Vicente Sederberg. 

“Creating an initial licensing round that prioritizes these individuals is intended to give them a first-mover advantage that helps them capitalize on what is expected to become one of the largest legal cannabis markets in the world. It is critical that those individuals and communities most heavily impacted by cannabis prohibition be given an opportunity to participate in this new industry.”

Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the landmark recreational cannabis legalization bill passed in New York last year, half of the state’s cannabis licenses for retailers, cultivators, processors and other other businesses were reserved for women, minorities, distressed farmers, veterans and “individuals who have lived in communities disproportionally impacted” by the failed War on Drugs. Alexander said that giving social equity applicants a head start over more well-funded applicants will give them a chance to succeed in a competitive market.

“I could press the green button right now and have 40 dispensaries online,” said Alexander, referring to the state’s existing medical cannabis retailers. “But instead we’ve decided that the folks who have been most impacted actually have the space and the real runway to participate in a meaningful way.”

$200 Million Social Equity Fund in New York

New York policy makers’ decision to reserve recreational cannabis retail licenses for those with pot convictions is not the first step they have taken to foster an equitable cannabis industry in the state. In January, Hochul set aside $200 million in the state budget to create a fund to help social equity applicants meet some of the costs of starting a business.

“New York’s legalized cannabis industry is in development, with the State expecting to issue licenses for adult recreational use,” the governor’s office wrote in a handbook detailing her budget proposals. “But the rise of what is estimated to be a $4.2 billion industry must create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.” 

The fund is designed to help social equity applicants locate, rent and renovate commercial properties for development into recreational cannabis dispensaries. George Mancheril, CEO of Bespoke Financial, told High Times that the fund and this week’s announcement that initial retail licenses will be reserved for those with cannabis convictions “levels the playing field.” He contrasted New York’s plan with California, where social equity provisions have so far failed to make significant progress in creating a diverse cannabis industry.

“In California’s social equity program, we too often see licenses awarded to those negatively affected by the war on drugs but then they are set up for failure by being granted a license but not equipped with the capital to compete with their well funded competitors,” Mancheril said. “This NY social equity program is a great example of the learnings from previous states’ shortcomings to continue to improve the effectiveness of empowering these entrepreneurs.”

The decision by New York regulators to set aside recreational retail licenses for social equity applicants was applauded by cannabis activists and representatives of the legal cannabis industry. Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said that New York “is taking a big swing” with the initiative.

“We don’t know what’s going to work,” she said, but “the thing that New York is showing here is that they’re willing to try and they’re willing to do things differently. . . . This is a real try towards achieving equity.”

Matt Hawkins, managing partner and founder of cannabis private equity firm Entourage Effect Capital, characterized the policy as “a step in the right direction to help legitimize the cannabis industry.” 

“New York is creating professional opportunities for people who have previous marijuana convictions and were impacted by The War on Drugs,” Hawkins told High Times in an email. “It is encouraging for the state to take a strong stance on this.”

The post First Dispensary Licenses in New York Go to Those with Pot Convictions appeared first on High Times.

First Dispensary Licenses in New York Go to Those with Pot Convictions

Cannabis regulators in New York revealed that at least 100 of the state’s first licenses for adult-use cannabis retailers will go to applicants with past pot-related convictions. The policy, which was announced on Thursday by New York Governor Kathy Hochul, would also apply to applicants with family members convicted of cannabis-related offenses.

Chris Alexander, the executive director of the New York Office of Cannabis Management, told the New York Times that by concentrating on “those who otherwise would have been left behind,” the state is in a “position to do something that has not been done before.” He said that he expects between 100 and 200 of the first recreational dispensary licenses will be issued to applicants with convictions for cannabis-related offenses or to those with “a parent, guardian, child, spouse or dependent” with such a conviction.

“These ‘justice involved’ individuals will be eligible for four-year conditional retail licenses to sell cannabis in the adult-use market,” explained Michelle Bodian, co-chair of the hemp and cannabinoids department of the law firm Vicente Sederberg. 

“Creating an initial licensing round that prioritizes these individuals is intended to give them a first-mover advantage that helps them capitalize on what is expected to become one of the largest legal cannabis markets in the world. It is critical that those individuals and communities most heavily impacted by cannabis prohibition be given an opportunity to participate in this new industry.”

Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the landmark recreational cannabis legalization bill passed in New York last year, half of the state’s cannabis licenses for retailers, cultivators, processors and other other businesses were reserved for women, minorities, distressed farmers, veterans and “individuals who have lived in communities disproportionally impacted” by the failed War on Drugs. Alexander said that giving social equity applicants a head start over more well-funded applicants will give them a chance to succeed in a competitive market.

“I could press the green button right now and have 40 dispensaries online,” said Alexander, referring to the state’s existing medical cannabis retailers. “But instead we’ve decided that the folks who have been most impacted actually have the space and the real runway to participate in a meaningful way.”

$200 Million Social Equity Fund in New York

New York policy makers’ decision to reserve recreational cannabis retail licenses for those with pot convictions is not the first step they have taken to foster an equitable cannabis industry in the state. In January, Hochul set aside $200 million in the state budget to create a fund to help social equity applicants meet some of the costs of starting a business.

“New York’s legalized cannabis industry is in development, with the State expecting to issue licenses for adult recreational use,” the governor’s office wrote in a handbook detailing her budget proposals. “But the rise of what is estimated to be a $4.2 billion industry must create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.” 

The fund is designed to help social equity applicants locate, rent and renovate commercial properties for development into recreational cannabis dispensaries. George Mancheril, CEO of Bespoke Financial, told High Times that the fund and this week’s announcement that initial retail licenses will be reserved for those with cannabis convictions “levels the playing field.” He contrasted New York’s plan with California, where social equity provisions have so far failed to make significant progress in creating a diverse cannabis industry.

“In California’s social equity program, we too often see licenses awarded to those negatively affected by the war on drugs but then they are set up for failure by being granted a license but not equipped with the capital to compete with their well funded competitors,” Mancheril said. “This NY social equity program is a great example of the learnings from previous states’ shortcomings to continue to improve the effectiveness of empowering these entrepreneurs.”

The decision by New York regulators to set aside recreational retail licenses for social equity applicants was applauded by cannabis activists and representatives of the legal cannabis industry. Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said that New York “is taking a big swing” with the initiative.

“We don’t know what’s going to work,” she said, but “the thing that New York is showing here is that they’re willing to try and they’re willing to do things differently. . . . This is a real try towards achieving equity.”

Matt Hawkins, managing partner and founder of cannabis private equity firm Entourage Effect Capital, characterized the policy as “a step in the right direction to help legitimize the cannabis industry.” 

“New York is creating professional opportunities for people who have previous marijuana convictions and were impacted by The War on Drugs,” Hawkins told High Times in an email. “It is encouraging for the state to take a strong stance on this.”

The post First Dispensary Licenses in New York Go to Those with Pot Convictions appeared first on High Times.

National Expungement Works Releases 2021 Impact Report

The National Expungement Works (N.E.W.) organization released its 2021 Impact Report on February 22, which examines the victories from last year to help those who have been affected by the criminal justice system for a variety of reasons, including cannabis-related convictions.

N.E.W. Founder LaTorie Marshall shared in a statement that 2021 was a challenging but monumental year for the organization. “Staying true to the mission, 2021 was about tapping into our organizers because I know they do this healing work 24/7, with or without N.E.W. I challenged myself to get better with my actions with, for, and beside them,” Marshall said in a press release. “2022 is the year we can kick our five-year wealth plan up a notch with our fellowship program. From learning how to lobby in your community to becoming a building owner, we are the ones that heal and keep each other safe as we continue forward in our process for reforming systems that were built against us. It’s my belief that if there is a presence of N.E.W. in your community, and you have been systemically impacted or affected, and you need a safe haven to release; come talk it out with us, it’s on us.”

N.E.W. is also sponsored by Canopy Growth Corporation, who stated that it is the cannabis industry’s duty to work with organizations to help people and communities in need. “As we evolve our social impact strategy with the support of our community partners, we continue to learn about the injustices faced by equity-deserving communities,” said Canopy Growth Corporation Chief Advocacy Officer Hilary Black. “This includes the difficulties faced by people impacted by the criminal justice system—including the potential for the accumulation of additional progressive charges.  The comprehensive, wrap-around services, such as N.E.W.’s Brake Light Clinics, are a direct response to the barriers and experiences of justice-impacted communities.”

N.E.W. partnered with CFA to help The Social Impact Center and Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón to identify approximately 66,000 cannabis convictions that were dismissed in Los Angeles County last year. “The combined efforts of such powerful forces, along with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, helped to shine a light on the importance of automatic expungement, as those who qualify may not even know that they are eligible,” according to the 2021 Impact Report. The path was paved for the cannabis-related expungements by the original prop 47 which lowers specific non-violent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and will account for thousands of future automatic record expungements.

N.E.W. was founded in October 2018 and is currently operated by 632 volunteers, as well as organizations and individuals, who are working to help Americans whose lives have been affected by the War on Drugs. According to the 2021 Impact Report, its many accomplishments include hosting numerous events such as the Week of Action & Awareness, which comprised of 21 virtual and in-person gatherings in 10 different cities, and having assisted over 65,000 people expunge or seal their records through services such as “legal relief, employment workshops, food and produce giveaways, health screenings and voter registration.” Those seeking expungement or record sealing opportunities can fill out a form on N.E.W.’s website to determine the specific state laws and necessities for eligibility.

More recently, N.E.W. will be holding 2022 “Brake Light Clinics” on February 27 in Maryland, with many more plans for 2022 to be announced later. Other expungement efforts for cannabis convictions have continued growing annually as well. At the end of January 2022, California legislators filed a bill to speed up expungement for over 34,000 people who are still waiting for relief. Advocates in New Jersey recently held a free expungement clinic for low-level cannabis convictions in September 2021.

The post National Expungement Works Releases 2021 Impact Report appeared first on High Times.

California Bill Filed To Accelerate Cannabis Conviction Expungements

California courts would face a deadline to implement expungements for past cannabis-related convictions under a bill introduced in the State Assembly on Wednesday. 

The legislation sponsored by State Assemblymember Mia Bonta would require courts to update case files for marijuana-related convictions and transmit them to the California Department of Justice by January 1, 2023, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The state justice department would then be required to use the information from the courts to update its records by July 1, 2023.

“California made a promise. I’m focused on making sure that California keeps its promises,” said Bonta. “This bill would allow us to automatically seal qualifying cannabis criminal records.”

Proposition 64, the landmark 2016 voter initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in California, included provisions to carry out expungements of convictions for cannabis-related offenses no longer illegal under state law. Further legislation passed in 2018 required the state to take the lead on clearing past marijuana convictions.

But a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed earlier this month that the courts have still not processed the records for at least 34,000 cases. Under Bonta’s bill, the state Department of Justice would be directed to update the records if prosecutors or the courts fail to meet their prescribed deadlines.

“By default, the record would be sealed if the case is eligible,” said Bonta. “There are 34,000 people in the state of California… who are not able to truly and fully live their lives because there has been a failure to fully implement the law.”

No Expungements Progress in Some Counties

Some counties, including Los Angeles and Santa Clara Counties, have made significant progress in clearing past cannabis convictions. But the investigation found that some counties have not yet fully processed any cases eligible for expungement, including Riverside County, where 21,000 cases await action. Another 5,400 cases in San Bernardino County have not been cleared. The delay comes despite the counties receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds allocated to process the records.

“The court has begun working on these cases, and resources permitting, intends to complete the work by July 1, 2022,” said San Bernardino Superior Court spokesperson Julie Van Hook.

Bonta’s bill also requires the Judicial Council to collect data on cannabis conviction expungement and make regular public reports on the state’s progress. Additionally, the legislation requires the state justice department to head a public awareness campaign to inform those affected that their records have been cleared and they no longer have to disclose their past convictions. The measure also expands eligibility for expungement to some conspiracy convictions where prosecutors have the discretion to charge an offense as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

Bonta said that expunging past convictions for cannabis-related crimes is needed to address the harm and racial inequities caused by cannabis prohibition.

“Black people, people of color, especially were targeted by the War on Drugs,” said Bonta. “[The bill] is in a sense a form of reparations.”

Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender Nick Stewart-Oaten, a board member of the California Public Defenders Association, applauded Bonta’s proposed legislation.

“For decades, the justice system quickly and enthusiastically destroyed the lives of men, women, and children accused of nonviolent marijuana offenses—this bill simply requires the system to act with similar enthusiasm and speed when giving the formerly convicted back their lives,” Stewart-Oaten said in a statement.

The legislation is also supported by the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the release of all people incarcerated for cannabis offenses. Gracie Burger, the group’s state policy director, said in a statement that Bonta’s bill would “ensure that California delivers on its overdue promise to those harmed by the War on Drugs.”

So far, no groups have expressed opposition to the legislation. Riverside Superior Court spokesperson Marita Ford wrote in an email that the “court doesn’t really have any comment on the pending legislation but if it is passed, we will of course ensure compliance.”

The post California Bill Filed To Accelerate Cannabis Conviction Expungements appeared first on High Times.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis Grants Slew of Pardons

Colorado Governor Jared Polis rang in 2022 with a pardon party.

Last Thursday, the governor’s office announced that he had “granted three commutations, 15 individual pardons, and signed an executive order granting 1,351 pardons for convictions of possession of two ounces or less of marijuana.”

The move was made possible by legislation that Polis signed in May, which “authorized the Governor to grant pardons to a class of defendants who were convicted of the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana.”

“Adults can legally possess marijuana in Colorado, just as they can beer or wine. It’s unfair that 1,351 additional Coloradans had permanent blemishes on their record that interfered with employment, credit, and gun ownership, but today we have fixed that by pardoning their possession of small amounts of marijuana that occurred during the failed prohibition era,” Polis said in a statement.

Signed into law by Polis on May 20 of last year, the bill increased “the amount of marijuana that adults 21 and older in Colorado can legally possess from one ounce to two ounces,” and built upon the 2012 voter-passed constitutional amendment legalizing recreational cannabis, which gave the governor such authorization.

The governor’s office said in a press release that individuals “who are unsure whether a conviction on their record has been pardoned may fill out a form to request confirmation of a pardon on the Colorado Bureau of Investigations website.”

Colorado has been a trailblazer for the legalization movement in the United States, becoming the first state (along with Washington) to end the prohibition on pot in 2012. Since then, restorative justice measures have become a fixture of new cannabis laws, with previous low-level offenders receiving pardons.

The governor’s office said that the cannabis pardon “applies to state-level convictions of possession for two ounces or less of marijuana, as identified by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI),” and that “individuals who have these convictions did not need to apply for pardons, and the Governor’s Office has not conducted individual assessments of the people who have been pardoned through this process. Individuals convicted of municipal marijuana crimes, or individuals arrested or issued a summons without a conviction, are not included in the pardon.”

The new year will bring some tighter restrictions to Colorado’s medical cannabis laws, however. The Denver Post reported in November that the state’s Department of Revenue “will limit the daily purchase to two ounces of flower and eight grams of concentrate such as wax and shatter for medical marijuana patients,” and that it will drop two grams per day for patients aged 18 to 20.

Per the Denver Post, the Department of Revenue unveiled the rules after “several months of deliberation over how to execute a new state law meant largely to limit young people’s access to and abuse of high-potency THC products.”

The newspaper reported that there are exceptions to the new rules, but they apply “to a patient whose doctor affirms in writing that the patient has a physical or geographic hardship that should allow them to exceed the daily purchase limits, and that the patient has designated a store as the primary place they get their medicine.”

The limits were made possible after lawmakers passed a bill that created a task force to produce new rules.

The bill was sponsored by Democratic state House Representative Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician, who said that she wanted to ensure that young people cannot “get their hands on an incredible amount of products and very concentrated products that they can then give or sell to people their age or younger who don’t yet have access to legal market because they’re not 21.”

The post Colorado Governor Jared Polis Grants Slew of Pardons appeared first on High Times.