The Alaska Supreme Court will clear the records of about 750 cannabis convictions from a state database in a move to help protect past offenders from the negative impact of a criminal record for conduct that’s no longer against the law. Under an order signed by the court’s five justices in January, records of past marijuana offenses will be removed from Courtview, the state’s online database of court cases, on May 1.
The court’s action continues the push to expunge convictions for cannabis-related offenses in states that have legalized marijuana in an attempt to mitigate the harms caused by years of cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs. The order applies to cases in which the defendant was at least 21 years old, and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis was the only charge.
Legislative attempts by lawmakers to remove cannabis convictions from Courtview have so far been unsuccessful, although bills are pending for the current legislative session. The action by the Supreme Court largely accomplishes the goal, but the new policy doesn’t remove the records of cannabis-related convictions from all state databases. Attorney Jana Weltzin said the move is a positive development for cannabis policy reform efforts in Alaska.
“If you’re older than 21 and you violated simple marijuana possession—meaning marijuana under an ounce—and you had it on your person, and it’s not connected with any other crime, then the Supreme Court of Alaska says we’re removing those from Courtview,” Weltzin told local media.
Nancy Meade, general counsel for the Alaska Court System, said that the change originated with administrative staff and was considered by the justices through the Supreme Court’s normal procedures.
“Given that (cannabis) has been legal for eight years, it appeared to the Supreme Court that this was an appropriate time not to have people, as I say, suffer the negative consequences that can stem from having your name posted on Courtview,” Meade said in a statement quoted by the Alaska Beacon. “Because the conduct is considered legal right now,” she said.
Court’s Order Doesn’t Affect All Conviction Records
The decision by the Supreme Court doesn’t expunge past cannabis convictions from the state’s criminal records, which are maintained by the Alaska Department of Public Safety (DPS). Officials clarified that information on such convictions would still be available at courthouses for inspection by members of the public and through formal background checks.
“The court system isn’t the official criminal record repository for the state of Alaska,” Meade said.
Records of arrests and convictions can have an impact on the ability of past offenders to secure employment and housing. But past legislative efforts to remove cannabis conviction records from Courtview haven’t been approved by lawmakers.
“A lot of folks in my district, they have these barriers that are put in place, and a simple rule change, policy change, legislation, could change it for their entire lives,” said Republican state Rep. Stanley Wright.
Last year, the Alaska House of Representatives approved a bill to conceal cannabis convictions from Courtview and criminal background searches by a vote of 30-8. The state Senate, however, failed to pass the bill before the end of the 2022 legislative session. A similar bill to shield cannabis convictions was pre-filed for the 2023 session by Wright on January 19, less than two weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision to remove the records from Courtview. Forrest Wolfe, Wright’s chief of staff, said that shielding the records of cannabis convictions can help mitigate the exodus of working-age people in Alaska that has in part led to a labor shortage in the state.
“It’s all about reducing barriers to entry, especially for employment,” Wolfe said. “In Alaska, we have a huge workforce shortage. If you were 21 years old or older, and it was some sort of a nonviolent crime, you were charged with and convicted of, now that cannabis is legal in the state, we don’t think it should be reflected negatively on your record,” Wolfe added.
Wright is reportedly considering whether his bill, which already has bipartisan support from three Democrats and two independent lawmakers, is still needed after the Supreme Court order to remove cannabis convictions from Courtview, while Democratic Sen. Löki Tobin is reportedly considering introducing a similar bill. Unlike the Supreme Court’s policy, which only covers court records, more comprehensive legislation could also protect information on cannabis convictions from being released through criminal background checks. If Wright’s bill is passed, up to 8,500 past cannabis convictions could be affected and hidden from view, according to information from the DPS.
The Alaska Supreme Court has a history of handing down decisions that have protected the rights of cannabis users. In 1975, the court ruled that the right to privacy guaranteed in the Alaska Constitution protects the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana in private residences, effectively legalizing cannabis for personal use.
At long last, San Diego is receiving grant money from the state as part of a program designed to help cities bolster their local cannabis industries.
The southern California city announced last month that it is receiving $880,000 from the Governor of California’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) as part of a statewide grant program aimed at promoting equity in the regulated marijuana market.
Under the initiative, California provided millions of dollars to cities throughout the state with their own cannabis equity grant programs.
Major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland all got in on the grant program. Last spring, officials in San Francisco announced that they had received $4.5 million from the state of California to fund its cannabis equity grant program.
But the $880,000 gift last month was the first such grant money to be awarded to San Diego.
“Receiving this critical funding source is vital to jump-starting our Cannabis Equity Program,” Lara Gates, the deputy director of San Diego’s Cannabis Business Division, said in the city’s announcement. “These dollars will provide a solid foundation for our initial cannabis equity applicants to get a strong foothold in the legal cannabis market.”
In its announcement of the grant last month, the city said the the “money will support residents seeking to enter the legal cannabis industry in San Diego through funding grants to cover permit and license fees and associated start-up property costs while providing access to the cannabis industry workforce.”
Those funds “will be dispersed locally, supporting the state’s effort to advance economic justice for populations and communities harmed by cannabis prohibition,” the city said in the announcement, adding that the grants “will help potential business owners pay for permitting and licensing fees, access education and training, and receive property rental assistance for entrepreneurship in various sectors that support local cannabis businesses,” which include “finance, marketing, advertising and legal services, among others.”
In determining the qualifications for the grant program, the city of San Diego “found the biggest hurdles to entering the industry are lack of capital, lack of training, problems finding suitable sites and complex government regulations,” according to the Union-Tribune.
“The historical enforcement of drug laws produced profound disparities in business ownership, wage earnings and mass incarceration within the criminal justice system for African American/Black, Latino and Native American/Indigenous communities,” Kim Desmond, the San Diego Chief of Race and Equity, said in last month’s announcement. “An acknowledgment of historic institutional racism and systemic inequity is key to understanding disparities in the cannabis industry.”
The money awarded to San Diego represented the “the seventh-largest grant, after Oakland and Los Angeles with nearly $2 million each, as well as Sacramento, San Francisco and Long Beach at $1.5 million each and Humboldt County with $1.2 million,” according to the Union-Tribune.
The city of San Diego said that it “was among 16 cities and counties across the state to receive a combined $15 million in grants, funded through tax revenue generated from statewide recreational cannabis sales.”
In its cannabis equity assessment last year, the city of San Diego found that Black and Latino residents accounted for roughly 50% of total cannabis arrests since 2015, although they comprise only 29% of the city’s population.
The assessment also found that nearly 70% of cannabis business license holders are white.
Richard Belzer is still pissed off, and he’s still funny as hell. The sharp-tongued comedian/actor has been holding a lamp of truth up to the dark foibles of politicians and pop culture icons for a couple of decades now, and though he’s found comfort and refuge in a happy marriage, his world-view shows no signs of mellowing.
Belzer’s comic career began in New York, when he auditioned for the video production of The Groove Tube and won several roles, including one of the leads in a sitcom parody called “The Dealers.” Having grown tired of paying the rent as a school teacher, census taker and journalist, Beizer jumped at the chance to be part of the underground film scene, and his success in the video and the later film version of The Groove Tube gave him the confidence to start doing standup.
Belzer’s combination of wild slapstick, heady rants and political diatribes have made him one of the country’s most vital comic commentators, but it seemed that the Hollywood world of prime-time TV and feature films never quite knew what to make of him. That changed when Beizer scored the role of Det. Munch on NBC’s cop-cranking psycho-drama Homicide. Last season, on an episode titled “And the Rocket’s Dead Glare,” Belzer’s worldweary Munch became the first prime-time character to deliver thoughtful, explicitly pro-hemp arguments as part of a debate over Drug War strategies. At present, Beizer is in Baltimore shooting new episodes of Homicide. He is also preparing a one-man show based on his view of the Kennedy assassination and cover-up.
HIGH TIMES: You seem to have a blast with the character of Munch no matter what he’s up to, but his pro-hemp speeches were quite a breakthrough. How did that come about?
Richard Belzer: The show is incredible. It’s a dream to be able to explore issues and make it entertaining. Last season, the producers told me they were talking about doing an episode where some people argued about the legalization of drugs. They wanted to use Munch as a pro-spokesman vs. a DEA guy who’s against. I asked the producer if he knew why marijuana was illegal, and he really didn’t know the history of it. I gave them some literature on it, and they beautifully wrote that into my dialogue. I thought it was absolutely incredible that a network, prime-time show would discuss these issues. I got to talk about the Declaration of Independence being written on hemp paper. That’s definitely never been said on prime-time.
HT: Was there any resistance from the producers or the network to any of the ideas you brought in?
RB: Not at all. As a matter of fact, they were delighted to have the real and historical information rather than just making shit up. The truth is always better.
I’ve read about this stuff for many years—about how up until World War II, hemp was used for fabric and fuel and protein. The flowering tops happen to get you high, but the rest of the plant is an amazing thing. Maybe hemp wouldn’t literally save the planet, but if we used it instead of trees for paper, we could leave the forests alone. Hemp paper lasts hundreds of years, and the plants grow anywhere and come back every year. The argument goes on and on, and the fact that hemp is illegal is a complete absurdity.
HT: Why do you think hemp became an “evil weed?’’
RB: Originally, the DuPonts and the Hearsts had a lot to do with it. In 1937, the patent for nylon was applied for by the DuPonts, and that’s when they said “Fuck this.” They didn’t want hemp rope on the market. The Hearsts owned paper mills and forests, so of course they didn’t want to use hemp paper. It was too cheap. The DuPonts and Hearsts teamed up to deny even industrial use for hemp. After all this time, there are finally some signs of common sense reappearing. In France, they just legalized marijuana for industrial use. That means using industrial seeds, which aren’t worth much smoke. The stuff they use for ropes and canvas doesn’t come from highly cultivated, smokers’ plants. They’re more “workman” plants. The THC is very low. They’re just used for the fiber, and not the hemp per se.
HT: As a scholar of hemp history, I’m sure you’ve gotten a kick out of oddities like the Hemp for Victory film.
RB: Oh yeah. We legalized hemp for the duration of WWII, but the Japanese took over all our hemp plantations in the Philippines. That’s where that Hemp for Victory newsreel came from. Remember that plane that George Bush had to bail out of during the war? The parachute that allowed him to float to the water was made of hemp. The boat that picked him up had an engine using hemp oil. The raft that rescued him was made of hemp, and the rope that pulled him out of the water was made of hemp. Without hemp, George Bush would be dead. What an ungrateful bastard he turned out to be.
HT: In the Homicide episode, you seemed to have a real mastery of the role hemp played in the early history of the United States. Thomas Jefferson probably would have enjoyed that show quite a bit.
RB: Jefferson had hemp plantations in the late seventeen-hundreds and early eighteen-hundreds. At that time, if you got caught taking hemp seeds out of China, it was the death penalty, but Jefferson used two secret agents to smuggle hemp seeds out of China, through Turkey, and back to his plantation. There are stories about him being a smoker, which can’t really be proved. But I think they drank a lot of hemp tea. It was the number one crop in the country. George Washington was the richest man in the colonies when he was elected President, and he had huge hemp plantations. It was used all over the world for all sorts of purposes. People prized their hemp seeds, and in some places the seeds were actually used as money. And, ironically, money is why there’s an irrational fear and hatred of hemp today.
HT: Greed and business interests obviously had everything to do with outlawing hemp in the first place, but today there seems to be a real moral outrage towards drug use. Where do you think that comes from?
RB: That’s an offshoot of the Drug War. But that fear doesn’t really apply to marijuana anymore. Everybody knows it’s a joke. Everybody knows that people don’t smoke a joint and run out and kill five people. It’ll never happen. Pot’s been around for thousands of years, and there’s nothing wrong with it. If anything, the things that it does that are good for your health should make people stop and think. There’s stuff in marijuana that’s actually good for your lungs, but you won’t read that in The New York Times. Marijuana is good for glaucoma, for appetite, for mood, as a relaxant. It’s not like this stuff just got whipped up and we’re trying to figure it out. It’s been around forever. The idea that it leads to worse drugs is absurd. I mean, maybe milk leads to heroin. Every heroin addict had milk at one time.
HT: One of the newer DEA arguments is that after all the years of cultivation, marijuana has become a potent and dangerous drug.
RB: That’s bullshit too. When you smoke really strong grass, you don’t want to jump out a window or kill anybody. You sit in your house and veg out. It’s not the kind of drug where you inhale it a few times and then run out and bite someone’s face. I don’t know what “dangerous” marijuana means. Maybe it’s dangerous if you trip over the bag. Go ahead and give me the most “dangerous” marijuana.
HT: Your show came out at a time when a pro-hemp stance is becoming more and more fashionable. Are you happy to see that kind of a movement taking shape?
RB: Yeah, there’s t-shirts, hats—a whole new generation of bands shamelessly talking about hemp. I don’t find that distasteful at all. I think that if we get out the message of “non-lethal, non-toxic, non-dangerous”—it may even help to get people off the really bad shit.
HT: Are you hopeful about any changes in the laws?
RB: Hemp won’t be legalized, but I think it’ll be decriminalized. If you’ve got less than an ounce, it’s a parking ticket. If it’s for your own use, just forget about it. I think judges in the future will throw out all marijuana cases simply because the prisons are too crowded and they want to put away more dangerous people.
HT: You’re one of the few standup comics who consistently work troubling political issues into your material.You seem particularly disgusted by the hypocrisy of the Drug War.
RB: When the government cracked down on marijuana a few years ago, that’s when cocaine became popular. People just want to get high, and they’ve been wanting to get high since the beginning of fucking time. And to make something as innocuous as grass less available makes people try other things. So the government is responsible for the increased use of cocaine.
Around the same time marijuana was made scarce, tons of cocaine came into this country to help finance the Contra war. I’d say there was a formula there. It’s not a myth. It’s not left-wing paranoia. Our government uses drugs to raise money for covert activities. That’s an equation you don’t hear too much about when you talk about marijuana use. I guarantee that if marijuana were easier to export and sell, the government would have used that to finance the Contras. It just happens to be too bulky. It’s not a powder.
HT: Are you disturbed or disappointed that the Iran-Contra scandal fizzled out without a full accounting of the government’s practices?
RB: The mainstream press passed on it from the beginning. The Democrats and Republicans got together and said, “Look, we can’t have another President impeached.” Reagan was impeachable. The Constitution says the President needs to see that all laws are obeyed, and Reagan had something like a hundred and eleven people in his administration breaking laws. By definition, he should have been impeached. Congress wanted to protect him, and kept the drug side out of it. The whole thing was a total fraud.
HT: That’s depressing, but I suppose that every major government throughout history has tapped into some kind of drug trade to help cement its power.
RB: It’s always been there. It’s just that you don’t learn about it in school and it’s not in the mainstream newspapers. But drugs are a big part of government. When the Afghanis were fighting the Russians, we let them run heroin into the United States so that maybe they’d prevail over the Communists. When you see the sheik and all these guys trying to blow up the World Trade Center, you’ve got to believe that there’s a CIA connection. These heroin dealers and hashish dealers that we propped up are coming back to haunt us.
HT: Speaking of being haunted, your new one-man show deals with the Kennedy assassination. You’re obviously still very bothered by what took place in Dallas.
RB: It’s incredible. It’s been thirty years, over six hundred books have come out, and there are still no satisfactory answers. We can’t let it go. It was a coup d’etat. Every government after Kennedy’s is illegal. That’s why the mainstream press isn’t too happy to talk about it—they were complicitous. My piece is funny, but also illuminating. I’m obsessed with the subject, and it never goes away. It’s my nightmare. There are some wonderful books from credible people trying to make sense of it all, but they never get press. My piece comes out of a lot of frustration.
HT: In general terms, does the Clinton Administration give you any kind of hope for the future?
RB: Whoever’s in power, I’m the opposition. As a political comedian, it’s my job not to go to the White House. You can’t be seduced.
HT: When Ned Beatty’s character asked Munch if he was a smoker, Munch begged off the question. Can you tell HIGH TIMES if you still enjoy the pleasures of hemp?
RB: Wherever it’s legal, I smoke it. I heard William Buckley say that he smoked a joint on his yacht, off the coast of the US in international waters. Even with all his buddies in the DEA, he didn’t want to say that he just lit up at a party. So let’s just say that Mr. Belzer has experimented under strictly legal conditions.
Being the leader of the free world is a tough job. Perhaps that’s why we know that at least a handful of former US presidents have consumed cannabis. Be it before, after, or during their White House tenures, there does indeed exist a track record of commanders-in-chief partaking or otherwise advocating for aspects of cannabis that goes back as far as the origins of our country. This Presidents’ Day, let’s explore this historical—and fascinating—fact.
From the founding fathers through to the most recent names to hold the post, the intersection of America’s top leaders and their affinities for cannabis makes for a fascinating survey. Be it a curiosity for cultivation, a massively cloudy college transcript, or the origin for arguably the coolest Willie Nelson story of all time, on Presidents’ Day, we’re paying homage to those who’ve served the nation’s highest post and who also harbor an affinity for weed.
In addition to being the first US president and his pivotal leadership role in the Revolutionary War, George Washington somehow also found the time to keep detailed diaries throughout his life. Covering all manner of his adventures, meditations and challenges, Washington dedicated significant ink to his interest in botany—including hemp. Though historians can’t say anything definitively, it does appear possible that the “hemp preparations” Washington writes of making and consuming to deal with toothaches and other ailments could conceivably have been made from female cannabis plants rich in THC.
Thomas Jefferson was also fond of hemp, possibly going so far as to smuggle seeds back from China to cultivate in America. In his tenure as ambassador to France (cue the Hamilton song), Jefferson was smack dab in the middle of a hashish craze. Unfortunately, we have no documentation to tell us whether Jefferson ever blazed properly, but his actions are a worthy reminder that, at times, even sitting US presidents may have been reduced to trying to smuggle cannabis compounds into the country they led.
Like Jefferson, Monroe served as ambassador to France where he experienced a first-hand glimpse into the hashish craze. Some accounts suggest that our fifth president took the fervor back home with him, where he continued to unapologetically smoke hashish for the remainder of his life. It’s also possible such tales are the result of unfounded claims or confusion, but it appears the jury is destined to forever remain out on exactly how high Monroe was when it comes to hashish.
One has to take Jimmy Carter at his word when he says he tried cannabis, but it’s thanks to our 39th president that one of stoner culture’s greatest stories came to be. Indeed, it was Carter’s son, Chip, who invited the seminal folk musician and cannabis advocate Willie Nelson to join him for a late-night toke on the roof of the White House. It’s incredible stuff, compounded by the fact that Carter also pitched Congress on legislation to eliminate all federal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis—in 1977. Talk about a leader who was ahead of his time.
A meme in an age before memes, Bill Clinton’s infamous quote (“I didn’t inhale”) was a punchline made in pot comedy paradise. As the world collectively rolled its eyes at Clinton’s phrasing, his unwillingness to acknowledge his own past cannabis consumption was made infinitely worse through his advocacy and support of the draconian 1994 Crime Bill, which was also sponsored by the current President, then-Senator Joe Biden (and every Republican in elected office). Next time? Definitely inhale, President Clinton.
When 46 separate people serve as president over the course of more than 250 years, it’s tough to squeeze everyone in there. That said, it’s worth noting that varying accounts suggest James Madison was also fond of hemp; that Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pearce all (separately) wrote letters during the Mexican American War that referenced enjoying cannabis; and that John F. Kennedy quite possibly used cannabis to treat his back pain while in office.
Meanwhile, our modern crop of commanders-in-chief now face a turning of the tide in which previous rhetoric equating cannabis to an enemy to be defeated by means of a “war” will no longer suffice. Instead, we see recent American presidents such as Barack Obama openly admitting to past cannabis use and successfully moving on from the topic. However, such personal enjoyment has yet to translate into concrete policies geared at freeing those incarcerated for cannabis crimes and mitigating future arrest, incarceration and systemic prejudice.
Though recent administrations have made waves with pardons related to cannabis prisoners, including some issued by former President Trump in 2021 and President Biden’s 2022 welcome announcement that he was pardoning “all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession,” the leader who’s in charge the day such pardons are no longer necessary is destined to find their name atop the heap as America’s first true cannabis positive president.
A California man who spent nearly 15 years in federal custody for operating a state-legal medical marijuana dispensary was released from prison last week following a years-long campaign by family and restorative justice advocates to secure his freedom. Luke Scarmazzo, who was dubbed California’s last cannabis prisoner by marijuana policy reform advocacy group CalNORML, was freed from federal custody on Feb. 3 in response to a compassionate release petition filed on his behalf in 2019.
In 2006, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided the medical dispensary Scarmazzo and his business partner Ricardo Montes were operating in compliance with Proposition 215, the 1996 ballot measure that legalized the medicinal use of cannabis in California. In May 2008, they were convicted for operating a continuing criminal enterprise. Scarmazzo was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months behind bars, while Montes received a 20-year sentence. On Jan. 5, 2011, a federal appeals court upheld the convictions of Scarmazzo and Montes, denying them a new trial.
“We followed California law to the letter,” Scarmazzo said about their convictions. “We paid our taxes. We went to work every day providing a benefit and service to the community. Yet in the end, we were made out to look like common criminals.”
In May 2017, Montes was granted clemency by President Barack Obama, but for some unknown reason, Scarmazzo was left in prison. He was disappointed once again when President Donald Trump left office in January 2019 without granting Scarmazzo a pardon as many advocates expected him to do.
Clemency Campaign Secures Scarmazzo’s Release
Scarmazzo’s case has received considerable attention and many criminal justice advocates including Weldon Angelos, a former cannabis prisoner who was pardoned by Trump in 2020, had taken up the cause for clemency. The two had served at the same federal prison in Lompoc, California from 2010 until Angelos’ release, where he had helped write the clemency petitions for Scarmazzo and Montes. After Obama commuted Angelos’ sentence, the former prisoner continued the fight to secure Scarmazzo’s release through his nonprofit group The Weldon Project.
“Luke’s story is one of the most tragic stories perpetrated by our criminal justice system. He was following state law but treated as a drug kingpin by the federal system. But I’m finally relieved that he can go home to his family and have a chance at rebuilding his life after serving 14 years in prison,” Angelos said. “We’ve helped a lot of people, but this one is different. Luke is my friend and someone I’ve been fighting for since we were in prison together seven years ago. Now, Luke has the ability to join us in this fight to free those we have both left behind.”
Judge Weighs ‘Unique Confluence’ of Circumstances
In his order releasing Scarmazzo last week, United States District Judge Dale A. Drozd wrote that he had considered a “unique confluence” of circumstances before reaching his decision. The judge cited Scarmazzo’s good behavior while behind bars; his pursuit of educational opportunities; strong support from his family and the community, including job offers; and noted the disparity between the sentences served by Scarmazzo and Montes, among other factors.
“The court is persuaded that the granting of the requested relief is appropriate at this point and is supported by both extraordinary and compelling circumstances and consideration of the sentencing factors set forth” by federal law, the judge wrote.
The campaign to free Scarmazzo was also spearheaded by the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), a nonprofit dedicated to securing the release of all cannabis prisoners. Kyle Kazan, an LPP board member and the CEO of California cannabis company Glass House Group, said that his company has pledged support for Scarmazzo to help ease the transition following his release. He also said the company would continue to advocate for a full pardon for Scarmazzo and called on President Joseph Biden to end the incarceration of all cannabis prisoners nationwide.
“While I think the release is an excellent sign that some judges understand how unjust the dichotomy in the law is, Luke needed a lawyer to make the argument on his behalf,” Kazan wrote in an email to Cannabis Now. “It would be a lot easier and represent the will of the majority of the American people for President Biden to live up to his promise and simply end the War on Cannabis. It would not require him to do any prisoner swaps but to simply sign 2,700 pardons. And Congress is derelict in their collective duty to continue to allow people to be sentenced to federal prison for this plant.”
Only days after his release, Scarmazzo also pledged to fight for those still serving time for cannabis-related convictions.
“After serving nearly 15 years in prison for operating a cannabis dispensary, I was granted my freedom. The feeling is surreal. We’ve worked toward this day for so long,” Scarmazzo wrote in a statement from LPP. “This was a huge victory for my family, friends, community and the entire cannabis movement. I’ll take a moment to enjoy this, but make no mistake, there’s still much work to be done—my people need to be free—and that hard work begins now.”
The first time engineer Anthony Winston III, PE, consulted on an indoor agricultural farm in California, he was told it was a “tomato” operation.
“I took a look at the building on Google Maps, because it just didn’t sound right – and when I noted the equipment on the roof I knew something was off,” he explained. “When I got there and realized they were a fully licensed and legal cannabis operation under the newly regulated market in California, I told them they could have told me the truth and I wouldn’t have minded.”
The experience gave him a new perspective on just what it was like working within the cannabis industry. Even though the plant is legal in the state, Federal laws stand, with licensed farmers and manufacturers in the space afraid to let an engineer know what they were doing upfront – fearful he’d say no.
Aside from the secrecy of it all, Winston realized the very building housing this major operation, requiring a serious electrical installation and all that implies, was in disrepair in a sketchy neighborhood, at best. This legal, licensed company couldn’t find a better location or building due to the very nature of the business and the stigma involved.
“The first time I was handed a stack of cash as payment for work I realized just what a travesty it is,” he added. “Imagine trying to do business like that – with large sums of money. It’s just not right.”
Discrimination: Black, Brown & Green
Discrimination is nothing new to Winston, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. It’s a part of the city that’s historically gotten a bad rap for crime, with the Black population targeted.
During former South Side resident and first Black President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House, Chicago was wrongly named the top city for murders. The political smear was corrected, however, as the city ranked tenth on the list at the time. Crime data pulled from the FBI, city police officials, and the U.S. Census Bureau in 2019, put St. Louis, Missouri in the number one slot of 65 cities, with Chicago at 28.
In actuality, the region south of the city is diversified, with upper, middle, and lower class neighborhoods.
The misinformation on crime and the fear that ensues on this and other cities boasting higher populations of people of color can be readily traced back to political propaganda. Eerily similar to the way cannabis has been politicized and demonized.
In fact, the plant has been used systematically to discriminate against Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and even women, over the decades. Look no further than the 1936 propagandist film, Reefer Madness, and see that just one puff of “the marihuana” turns women into whores.
Winston, who considers himself a lifelong student of Black history, said while he understands the pain of discrimination within many groups of minorities, he can’t compare his own experience.
“I try not to compare struggles,” he shared. “My struggle as a Black man is different than that of, say, an LGBTQ+ person. You can’t equate it. You can equate the absolute absurdity of someone trying to get plant medicine and assistance, without having to buy expensive pharmaceuticals. In that respect, both are absurd. No one wants or should be treated unfairly – especially when it equates to the safety and well-being of their own bodies.”
Engineered for the Plant
Winston was educated at Arizona State University, earning his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, with an emphasis in Power Transmission and Distribution. He later earned his Professional Engineering (PE) certification.
His company, Winston Engineering Inc., established in 2015, is the only Black-owned MEP and civil engineering firm in California, operating in multiple states and Canada.
“After working on that first warehouse in Los Angeles, everything snowballed. Because of the discrimination in the cannabis industry, when they find a professional willing to work, introductions by word-of-mouth are common. We were working on another warehouse in Long Beach and a neighbor stopped in that was doing extractions, so we worked on his facility. He was the first license holder in Long Beach for extractions.”
Winston’s company employs 10, providing mechanical (HVAC), electrical, plumbing (MEP), and civil engineering for a wide variety of cannabis related buildings, including cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, retail, and distribution.
Helping Himself, Helping Grandma
When California legalized, Winston tried an edible for the first time.
“I’ve always been an athlete, and still have knee pain from playing basketball. Instead of reaching for a painkiller, I take edibles, and it’s been amazing for taking care of the pain. I’m lucky, I’m healthy and only use an inhaler for exercise-induced asthma.”
Helping himself with the plant was one thing, but helping Grandma was everything.
“My grandmother has a lot of medical conditions, and at one point she was taking well over a dozen medications that left her in an almost sleepy, zombie state,” he shared. “I convinced her to try cannabis, and gave her a five milligram gummy to start with. So far, she’s cut her medications down by half and she’s back to being herself again.”
Aside from his cannabis use as medicine, he’s also changed his diet over the years to vegetarian, leaning to vegan, after his daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, including dairy.
In a study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), it was found that increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet for just two weeks, raises endorphins and creates dopamine in the brain, successfully treating depression.
We in the cannabis caregiving space know that adding superfoods or super plants, like cannabis, also raises endorphins and creates dopamine, while addressing all our biological systems, creating homeostasis or a place where illness cannot dwell.
“I do my best to stay as natural as possible, and I love the cannabis plant and all its possibilities,” he added.
Social Equity in Real Time
“When dispensaries start looking like Apple stores, it’s time to let Black and Brown people out of jail.” – Anthony Winston III
Social equity in the cannabis space means bridging the gap between the once illicit market, into the regulated market, for those who might have been marginalized within the failed War on Drugs.
In other words, if you were part of the cog in the wheel of meeting supply and demand of the world’s most beloved and illicit plant, chances are you might not have the wherewithal to come into compliance in a legal market, with all that implies.
“What the end result of helping people in the social equity space should be is setting people up to start-up and run a business, simply put,” he said. “What that looks like in real time is, we volunteer our time with various social equity groups around the country, teaching them about avoiding pitfalls when designing a facility.”
How they find people to mentor varies. Quite often Winston meets social equity organizers at various cannabis conferences.
“I’ll talk to them about everything I know about starting up and business, engineering, and everything else in between,” he said.
One big inspiration came when he heard Tracy Ryan, founder of CannaKids and mother of Sophie Ryan who has been using cannabis oil in tandem with traditional therapies to treat a brain tumor since she was nine months old.
“When I first [started] working in the cannabis industry, I thought of it as a money making opportunity,” he admitted. “Then, I heard Tracy Ryan speak and met her daughter, Sophie, and that really pulled at my heartstrings. When you begin to hear the stories of cannabis patents dealing with real illness, it changes everything.”
Winston said he’s seen the impacts of the War on Drugs firsthand, with numerous family members locked up over the years.
“Recently, a cousin was released from prison after spending the better part of his twenties in jail,” he said. “He missed out on the years … where he might have developed his own business. This is a common tale within the Drug War.”
The feeling is that those in the industry with the ability to lead in this way, have an obligation to help those coming up. It doesn’t just mean writing a check or adding a logo in support to your website. The victims of the failed War on Drugs, and the inequities that ensue with people of color, add another layer to the wrongs that need to be righted now.
On New Year’s Day, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced that 42,964 cannabis convictions were processed to be erased. That number was fielded a month ago in Gov. Lamont’s initial announcement on Dec. 8, 2022.
The governor expressed how prior cannabis convictions shouldn’t be a detriment to a person’s chance at employment and other opportunities.
“As of this morning, our administration has marked 42,964 cannabis convictions erased, as planned,” Gov. Lamont tweeted. “It’s one step forward in ending the War on Drugs and giving our citizens a second chance to achieve their dreams.”
Many different reactions followed, mostly positive, with one Twitter user criticizing the governor as being “weak on crime.”
The move fulfills provisions included in legislation that the governor signed over a year ago. Gov. Lamont signed Senate Bill 1201 on June 22, 2021. That effectively made Connecticut the 19th state to legalize the adult use of cannabis.
A proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis was initially put forward by the governor to the General Assembly as Senate Bill 888. He also proposed similar legislation in February 2020 as Senate Bill 16.
Connecticut residents with additional minor convictions on their records will be able to petition courts to seal their records under separate legislation. “Convictions for violations of … possession of less than or equal to four ounces of a cannabis-type substance imposed before January 1, 2000, and between October 1, 2015, and June 30, 2021,” the governor’s office said. “Convictions for violations of … possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia for cannabis imposed before July 1, 2021; [and] Convictions for violations … imposed before July 1, 2021, for manufacturing, selling, possessing with intent to sell, or giving or administering to another person a cannabis-type substance and the amount involved was under four ounces or six plants grown inside a person’s home for personal use.”
These types of convictions should not impact an individual’s ability to gain a job, the governor said last month.
“On Jan. 1, thousands of low-level cannabis convictions in Connecticut will be automatically erased due legislation we’ve enacted,” Gov. Lamont tweeted last month. “Especially as employers seek to fill job openings, an old conviction for low-level possession should not hold someone back from their aspirations.”
President Joe Biden also issued some additional pardons on Friday, including a few people with cannabis or other drug convictions.
Connecticut Sales Begin
The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) announced that medical cannabis dispensaries that obtained a hybrid license can start selling adult-use cannabis as early as 10 am ET on January 10 next week.
“For decades, the war on cannabis caused injustices and created disparities while doing little to protect public health and safety,” Lamont said in a press release. “The law that I signed today begins to right some of those wrongs by creating a comprehensive framework for a regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, criminal justice and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous, unregulated market and support a new and equitable sector of our economy that will create jobs.”
As in other states and cities that have legalized cannabis, Connecticut’s new law contained a significant social justice component, with provisions to award the first retail licenses to individuals from areas most adversely affected by long standing drug policies, and to clear the records of those with certain marijuana-related convictions.
Many may be familiar with the late Dr. Tod Mikuriya as one of the architects and co-authors of Proposition 215, making California the first state to legalize cannabis as medicine.
But many more aren’t aware that he was once hired by the U.S. government to discredit cannabis in a political move, as the psychoactive properties within the plant promoted critical thinking at a time in history when the people were rising up.
The year was 1967 and Mikuriya had been hired by the National Institute of Mental Health Center for Narcotics and Drug Abuse Studies to research marijuana for negative outcomes. The National Center for Drug Abuse would be created in 1974, solely funding studies on cannabis and other drugs for abuse, while shelving positive findings.
One such infamous study on pregnancy from the 1970s in Jamaica was slated to last 20 years, but was shut down after the five-year-olds given cannabis tea since birth were shown to excel in every area. This was after their mothers were monitored drinking the tea while pregnant, with positive outcomes noted.
“One of my assignments was to spy on the communes in California because at the height of the fear of the Vietnam War, the year of the Tet Offensive, and the total embroilment in the conflict in the United States, as well as Vietnam,” he shared. “They were fearing the fall of civilization as manifested by certain rebellious behaviors, principally on the West Coast.”
The Tet Offensive was an escalation of military campaigns during the Vietnam War against forces in South Vietnam, at a time when our failure to excel in the conflict was kept from the people, until The Pentagon Papers revealed the deceit.
The powers that be understood that psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, along with cannabis, were being used socially, and became a big part of the anti-war movement. The more Mikuriya learned of the campaigns against what he found to be beneficial and useful compounds, the more he rebelled.
“Frankly I was aghast at being part of this machine back in D.C. that could be so blind and mean-spirited,” he continued. “Their take on marijuana was, ‘how can we suppress it and prevent it,’ because this is something that promotes that dangerous trait of critical thinking. Because it was linked with the rebellion of the anti-war movement against the military machine, the military industrial complex.”
Third Eye Open
Dr. Mikuriya didn’t linger on the theories of demonizing hemp for industry or the plant’s potential competition with big pharma. He was trained in psychology and understood completely the government’s fear of psychedelics opening up the third eye, with critical thinking a threat to being a good soldier, being led into the jungle for a war that was little understood.
The same year Mikuriya was hired by the government to demonize the plant, Timothy Leary shouted out to 30,000 hippies in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” further cementing the theory that psychoactive plants and compounds don’t make good foot soldiers.
Interesting to note, in 1974, alleged MK Ultra survivor, Cathy O’Brien, was asked at a lecture podium what she knew about cannabis and why the government opposes the plant. Without a beat, she responded, “Because it blocks mind control.” This is poignant, as MK Ultra was said to have been a covert government mind control project.
“So, basically, I defected,” he said of his post that lasted less than a year.
At this point in the interview, von Hartman interjected, “Excuse me for interrupting, but you were told not to find any positive result in your research, is that true?”
“Correct,” Mikuriya responded, firmly. “They were interested in finding anything toxic, anything that could be used to dissuade the use of cannabis. But at the same time they recognized, although it couldn’t be admitted, that it was relatively benign. The big problem with dealing within the federal bureaucracy – or I suppose any bureaucracy – is the compartmentalization, that restriction on the flow of information.”
The Doctor’s Journey
There is no mention of Mikuriya’s gig with the federal government in his obituary in the New York Times upon his passing in 2007. They do go into great detail on his advocacy for the plant and subsequent persecution.
Mikuriya was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on September 20, 1933, to parents who raised him and his two siblings as Quakers.
“The Quakers were proprietors of the Underground Rail[road], I’m proud to say,” he was once quoted, making reference to the underground route to safety for slaves in Colonial America.
His mother, Anna Schwenk, was a German immigrant and a special education teacher. His father, Tadafumi Mikuriya, was the descendant of a Japanese Samurai family, trained as an engineer.
Mikuriya earned a bachelor’s degree from Reed College in Oregon in 1956, and his MD from Temple University in 1962 – where he stumbled upon a reference in a pharmacology textbook on the uses of medical marijuana.
Intrigued by the many medicinal applications listed, he decided he needed to experience cannabis first hand.
“… I was smitten by an attack of idle curiosity during my sophomore year in medical school during the pharmacology course,” he explained. “I happened to unintentionally read a chapter on cannabis in Goodman & Gilman, which described the medicinal uses and described also, fairly Draconian punishment for its use. This was consistent with what social attitudes existed back then in 1959.”
Reading up what was available at the library, he said that summer he traveled down to Mexico to score some weed. Using some slang words for cannabis on a street dealer that he said approached him upon crossing the border, he succeeded in his quest.
Mikuriya said he took the man up to his hotel room and at random picked one of the 10 hand-rolled marijuana cigarettes laid out, instructing the dealer, “Okay, light it up, take a few puffs.” When the man showed no hesitation to partake, Mikuriya was relieved to see it was not poisonous, and partook himself.
With his curiosity whetted, he said he quickly realized he should keep the experience to himself, and that this was not something he would submit to any department for a research project, because it would surely have been the end of his medical career.
“So, then I embarked upon my personal bioassay experience,” he continued. “I put this down after a while, having no one to communicate with and no source, until 1964. At which time, during my psychiatric practice training up in Oregon I became aware of it.”
After finishing his psychiatric residency at Mendocino State Hospital, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a medic. Shortly thereafter, ironically, he became Director for a drug addiction treatment center of the New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute in Princeton, under the tutelage of Dr. Humphrey Osmond, who was well versed in psychedelic drugs.
“I then was headhunted by the National Institute of Mental Health Center for Narcotics and Drug Abuse Studies, with the specific assignment of research into marijuana,” he said. “Needless to say, this seemed to be right up my area of interest, and left New Jersey for the psychosis inside the Beltway.”
Reefer Madness, Part 2
The psychosis inside the Beltway refers to the Reefer Madness he experienced while working in Washington D.C. researching cannabis, then finding that the laws weren’t exactly copasetic to what he knew to be the plants full potential.
He also came to the realization that cannabis had been part of the American Pharmacopoeia for at least 200 years prior to it being politicized in the late 1930s. Thankfully, the plant was added back to the list fairly recently in 2016.
“First stop was at the National Library of Medicine, where I ran across many more medicinal and pharmaceutical papers that motivated me to assemble what I felt to be the ‘creme de la creme’ and put it into a book, The Marijuana Medical Papers: 1839 to 1972,” he shared, of the compilation still available today.
Mikuriya became a consultant for the Shafer Commission, formerly known as the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, appointed by then President, Richard Nixon, with the report released in 1972.
The commission’s now infamous report, Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, called for more research and the decriminalization of cannabis possession. But, Mikuriya said it was “D.O.A.” and ignored by Nixon’s White House, who proceeded to add the plant to its failed War on Drugs.
“This was part of the Nixon administration’s distraction and palliation of the scientific and medical communities, as he put together the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, that classified cannabis as having no medicinal redeeming importance and being Schedule I, highly dangerous, to be avoided – which was a total lie,” he said. “But this is the way it is today. That federal law still is driven by this insanity, put together by the Nixon Justice Department apparatchiks.”
So good was the government’s campaign against the plant, that at the time a mere 12% of Americans supported its legalization, with public sentiment viewing cannabis users as dangerous. In reality, the committee found them to be more “timid, drowsy and passive,” concluding that cannabis did not cause widespread danger to society, further outing the political hoax.
“The use of cannabis goes into antiquity, as probably everybody knows, but what is not known, or what is not appreciated, is the fact that it was clinically available for roughly a hundred years in America and Western Europe for a variety of therapeutic uses. It was called ‘cannabis,’” he explained. “And the term ‘marijuana’ was described as a ‘mongrel word,’ that was applied to the Mexican use of cannabis, that very few agencies within the federal government at the time back in 1937 understood that it was the same as cannabis, so they thought that marijuana was really a separate plant, a separate material. And didn’t connect it with the medicinal uses.”
In the years that followed, Mikuriya would go on to document 200 case studies from his own clinical research from patients successfully using cannabis as a serious medicine for both emotional and physical issues. But, as long as cannabis was listed on the Department of Health’s Schedule 1, showing no medicinal value, he was shouting at the wind.
The Endocannabinoid System (eCS) wouldn’t be discovered until 1988 by researchers Allyn Howlett and William Devane at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, in a government-controlled study that also discovered the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors; the pathway for plant compounds to distribute themselves throughout all human biological systems.
As they say, timing is everything. Having the knowledge of the eCS during the Shafer Commission’s work might have saved the plant from the crossfire of the failed War on Drugs, but we’ll never know.
California Medicine, Federally Illegal
The disappointment of the Shafer Commission’s report may have had the good doctor fleeing Washington D.C., but it only empowered him as an advocate once back in California, where the LGBTQ+ community had already championed cannabis as medicine for AIDS patients.
By the mid-1990s Mikuriya became one of the architects and co-authors of Proposition 215, with California voters giving a green light for residents to become cannabis patients. Mikuriya was the first physician in the state to write a script, recommending cannabis as medicine for the first cannabis patient.
A collective sigh of relief was heard throughout the world, as California became the leader in compassionate care and education on cannabis as medicine. Mikuriya thought it would be smooth sailing from then on, that the voters had spoken and the people would finally be educated on this powerful plant. But, the celebration was cut short.
“Within a month after we passed the law back in ’96, there was a meeting at McCaffery’s office in the White House,” he said. “The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, where they hatched schemes to nullify the state laws, either directly in court or through other means – and the other means would be to go after both the patients and the physicians.”
Barry McCaffrey was the first “Drug Czar” for the The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), established by President Nixon overseeing his War on Drugs. The position is still just one step down from the Oval Office, with it and its agency’s existence just one executive order away from the president’s pen.
The State’s Attorney General, he said, opposed the proposition before it passed, and was dedicated to “blocking and suborning it.” With this, the DEA became empowered, embedding themselves into local law enforcement agencies in the state, in fiscally subsidized partnerships, causing a financial dependence that continues today, even in legal states.
Physician, Heal Thyself
Mikuriya became a thorn in the side of the DEA, claiming representatives from the privatized “prison-industrial complex, our version of the military-industrial complex,” were big supporters of the War on Drugs, funding the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (now, Partnership to End Addiction).
“These are the subversives that are embedded in the civil service system,” he said. “The California Narcotics Officers Association believes that medical marijuana is a hoax, and have sponsored and organized statewide meetings within the criminal justice system for orientation and training, in actuality laying out templates of ways for blocking it.”
An outspoken patient himself, ordinances dictate that doctors aren’t allowed to touch the plant. They aren’t educated in medical school and they can’t prescribe cannabis as medicine, they can only “recommend.”
With the plant still federally prohibited, with no medicinal value admitted, Mikuriya was hotly criticized, with an attempt made to strip him of his medical license.
“In my case, an undercover agent was sent to infiltrate a clinic of mine, not even bothering with the niceties of the Medical Board, filtering and embellishing it, went directly to the AG’s office,” he said. “So, there’s been this clique of opponents who are doing their damndest to hurt the physicians and dissuade participation in the law.”
The incident happened in 2000, with the Medical Board of California giving Mikuriya five years probation and a $75,000 fine for what they called “gross negligence, unprofessional conduct, and incompetence” for failing to conduct proper physical examinations on 16 patients for whom he had written scripts. The truth was, Mikuriya had given out around 9,000 scripts all told.
The fact that they pinned 16 questionable scripts on him with probation and a fine seems to have been a weak attempt to slow him down, as he continued his private psychiatric practice, as a cannabis clinical consultant, until his death.
“I want to see cannabis defined as an easement, which is not a narcotic, not a psycho-stimulant, not a hallucinogen,” he surmised. “One of the things in managing chronic conditions with cannabis is the absence of side-effects as being the critical factor. Cannabis has a remarkable profile compared with any synthetic pharmaceuticals. In fact, it really enhances both the quality of life and rehabilitation from illness. Since cannabis both modulates and activates certain kinds of very positive healing functions of the body.”
Author’s Note: This profile was taken from transcript, The Lost Interview, Berkeley, California, 2004, Interview by Paul J. von Hartman.
Connecticut’s adult-use law was packed with provisions to ensure an equitable industry, and now the state’s Social Equity Council has a new chairman.
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced on Dec. 27 that he selected Paul O. Robertson, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), to serve as Chair of the state’s Social Equity Council.
The Social Equity Council seeks to ensure that Connecticut’s adult-use cannabis program is fairly represented, and ensure that funds from the adult-use cannabis program go to the right communities that are disproportionately hit hardest by the War on Drugs, according to the council’s Code of Ethics. Robertson’s new role begins when the seat becomes vacant at the beginning of next year.
“Connecticut’s adult-use cannabis program is at a pivotal time right now, and I appreciate the steps the Social Equity Council has taken to date to ensure that it is rolled out in an equitable manner as we envisioned when we enacted this law,” Governor Lamont said. “Paul will bring relevant experience and strong existing relationships with council members to his role as chair, and I thank him for agreeing to take on this leadership position.”
Deputy Commissioner Robertson succeeds Andréa Comer, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP), as chair of the Social Equity Council.
Deputy Commissioner Comer plans to depart her job at DCP and her membership on the council to take upon a new role as chief of staff for Treasurer-elect Erick Russell. That new role will be filled when he takes the oath of office on January 4, 2023. Per state statutes, the governor must select one of the council’s members to serve as its new chair.
“I am grateful to Governor Lamont for entrusting me with this important role and I look forward to serving the state in this new capacity,” Deputy Commissioner Robertson said. “Deputy Commissioner Comer has done a tremendous job leading the Social Equity Council to this point, and I plan to continue to work alongside its members and our partner agencies to ensure the adult-use cannabis market grows equitably.”
The Purpose of the Social Equity Council
The enforcement of cannabis laws disproportionately targeted certain communities, and cannabis minority ownership remains low, leading many states to adopt social equity provisions to make an effort to fix some lingering issues.
In Connecticut, the state’s census tracts identify Disproportionately Impacted Areas to promote and encourage the full participation in the cannabis industry by people from communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition. The recommended tracts are available to see on the Connecticut Open Data Portal.
To qualify as a Disproportionately Impacted Area, those communities must have either a historical conviction rate for drug-related offenses over one-tenth, or an unemployment rate over 10%, as determined annually by the Social Equity Council.
The council provides credentials for all of its council members. The council, under Connecticut’s adult-use cannabis law, Public Act 21-1, consists of 15 members—seven of whom are appointed by legislators, four of whom are appointed by the governor, and four of whom are ex-officio members.
Other efforts are being made to right the wrongs of yesterday, such as the expungement of thousands of records involving cannabis-related convictions. Earlier in the month, Gov. Ned Lamont’s office said in a press release that records “in approximately 44,000 cases will be fully or partially erased” next month by way of “an automated erasure method.”
Connecticut’s adult-use law contained provisions to award the first retail licenses to individuals from areas most adversely affected by long standing drug policies, and to clear the records of those with certain cannabis-related convictions.
Democratic Governor Kathy Brown of Oregon announced on Monday that she would issue pardons for low-level marijuana possession convictions of adults 21 and older prosecuted before 2016. The governor’s office reported that the move would encompass a total of 47,114 pardons and affect approximately 45,000 individuals with convictions for possession of small amounts of weed. The action also forgives about $14 million in associated fines and fees levied due to the convictions.
“We are a state, and a nation, of second chances. 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,” Brown said in a statement on Monday. “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.”
Pardons Apply To Pre-2016 Convictions For Post Possession
The pardons announced on Monday apply to pre-2016 convictions for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in electronically available cases in which the defendant was at least 21 years old. Additionally, there must be no victims in the case and the conviction must have been the only charge associated with the prosecution. The pardons do not apply to any other controlled substances or other marijuana-related offenses such as cultivation, distribution, or sales of cannabis.
The pardons will not result in the release of anyone from incarceration because no one is currently behind bars in Oregon solely for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, the governor’s office reported. But the pardons will seal the records of such convictions and help address the collateral harms associated with a criminal history.
Pardons Address Racial Disparities Of The War On Drugs
Brown noted that despite relatively equal levels of cannabis use among racial groups, “Black and Latina/o/x people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates” for marijuana offenses.
“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 continued. “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.”
The governor’s office noted that the pardons will only apply to state-level convictions for marijuana possession because the Oregon Justice Department does not have access to locally maintained city and county municipal or justice court records. In a FAQ document posted online, officials noted what happens when the records are sealed by the court and how the pardons will affect an individual’s recorded criminal history.
“The pardoned marijuana conviction will no longer show up on background checks of public court records,” the governor’s office explained. “However, the conviction may show up on background checks conducted by law enforcement officials or licensing authorities, but it will show up as a pardoned conviction. In addition, certain private companies may have collected the data associated with the conviction prior to the date of the Governor’s pardon, either through a contract with the State or by gathering that data from public sites on the internet.”
Pardon Follow President’s Call For Clemency
Brown’s pardons of minor marijuana possession convictions follows President Joseph Biden’s pardon of federal convictions for simple marijuana possession announced last month. The president also called on state governors to take similar action and directed the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to review the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act.
“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement on October 6. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
Brown’s pardons continue her efforts to reform Oregon’s criminal justice system. Between 2020 and 2021, she commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 with convictions for state crimes. After the pardons of marijuana possession offenses were announced on Monday, Democratic U.S. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a supporter of cannabis policy reform at the federal level, issued a statement supporting the governor’s clemency action.
“Pardoning simple possession in Oregon is absolutely necessary to repair the damage done by the failed War on Drugs,” Wyden said. “It is the proper use of governor’s clemency powers and I hope that every governor and state legislature will follow suit. The American people have consistently shown overwhelming support for expungement and reform of our marijuana laws. It is time for Congress to step up and begin to right these wrongs at the federal level. As we approach the end of this Congress, I will continue to push for meaningful cannabis reform, and will fight to get as much done as we possibly can.”