Marijuana

Relief for Victims of Pot Prohibition

Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act highlights the moral imperative of automatic expungement.

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Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, which he reintroduced last week, would rehabilitate the much-maligned plant by removing it from the federal government's list of proscribed substances. The New Jersey senator's bill also aims to rehabilitate the victims of that arbitrary ban, and in that respect it differs from most of the legalization measures that have been passed by states or proposed by members of Congress.

By and large, the lingering impact of laws that criminalized peaceful activities involving cannabis has been addressed as an afterthought, if at all. Booker's bill, which he has made a conspicuous part of his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, therefore does a real service by raising the issue of what the government owes to people who were convicted of doing things that are no longer crimes.

The bill, which is cosponsored by four other presidential contenders, would allow people serving time in federal prison for violating marijuana prohibition to seek resentencing "as if" the ban did not exist when they committed their offenses. That provision could conceivably free thousands of people, depending on how judges respond to such motions.

The Marijuana Justice Act also requires expungement of records related to "marijuana use or possession offense[s]." Such offenses account for the vast majority of marijuana arrests, but almost all of those cases are handled by state courts, so it's not clear how many people would benefit from this provision.

Continuing to serve time for crimes that no longer exist seems clearly unjust, a point that was widely recognized after the repeal of alcohol prohibition. In 1933, for instance, Indiana Gov. Paul McNutt issued pardons or commutations to about 400 people who had been convicted of alcohol offenses under state law. "If these men were kept in prison after the liquor law is repealed," he said, "they would be political prisoners."

Even for people who have completed their sentences, punishment continues. Police in the U.S. have arrested people for violating marijuana prohibition about 20 million times in the last three decades alone, and the resulting records impose long-lasting burdens.

Depending on the jurisdiction and the offense, people caught violating marijuana laws may lose the right to vote, the right to own a gun, the right to drive a car (for up to a year), the right to live in the United States (for noncitizens), and the right to participate in a wide variety of professions that require state licenses. They may find it difficult to get a job, rent an apartment, obtain student loans, or travel to other countries. They may even be barred from coaching kids' sports teams or volunteering in public schools.

The employment consequences can be explicit, as with state laws that exclude people convicted of felonies from certain lines of work, or subtle, as with businesses that avoid hiring people who have criminal records, sometimes including arrests as well as convictions, because of liability concerns. "There is no limit to how much you can discriminate against a person with a criminal record," observes Douglas Berman, a sentencing expert at The Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law.

Such collateral consequences seem especially unfair and irrational in the growing number of U.S. jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, which so far include 10 states, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands. California has gone furthest to address the problem: The state's 2016 legalization initiative authorized expungement of marijuana records, and a 2018 law makes that process automatic.

Other states offer various forms of relief, ranging from generous to nearly nonexistent. All of them put the onus on prohibition's victims to seek the sealing or expungement of their criminal records, a process that can be complicated, expensive, and time-consuming.

Automatic expungement is the least the government can do for Americans who continue to suffer because of actions that violated no one's rights. "The end we seek is not just legalization," Booker says. "It's justice."

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. “Depending on the jurisdiction and the offense, people caught violating marijuana laws may lose the right to vote, the right to own a gun, the right to drive a car (for up to a year), the right to live in the United States (for noncitizens), and the right to participate in a wide variety of professions that require state licenses.”

    And notice the really fun part; the constitutional right to vote and / or own a gun are revoked forever, the privilege of driving a car is only revoked for a year.

    Welcome to the revolution.

    1. How do you respond when some progressive repeats the progressive pablum that driving a car is a privilege? Do you let him just regurgitate that statist non-sense?

    2. You can apply for your rights to be restored… it is not forever. But work is unconstitutional.

    3. I get paid over $180 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I just got paid $ 8550 in my previous month It Sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it.
      ?????AND GOOD LUCK????? http://WWw.Aprocoin.com

    4. Holy shit, you’re right

  2. Is Corey implying tbone cant vote?

  3. what the government owes to people who were convicted of doing things that are no longer crimes

    Uh, huh. Next we’ll discuss reparations to descendants of slaves *and* the end of qualified immunity.

  4. How come no one is agitating to expunge the records of convicted bookmakers now that states are legalizing sports betting?

    1. Have you tried dropping ol’ Cory a line about it?

    2. I’ll bet you 20 to 1 that Cory has no interest in it.

  5. If only he actually cared about justice, maybe we’d see this for certain gun owners as well.

  6. I am not a fan of old Spartacus, but any efforts to legalize a harmless plant and remove the stain of its ridiculous illegality is something I can get behind.

    1. Ditto

  7. Booker mentioned how these convictions affect one’s chances of future employment. I wonder if he feels the same way about all of the good Marines I served with who had a urine sample test positive for THC. Do their discharges get expunged and changed to honorable? When a DD-214 lists “Other Than Honorable” and the separation reason as “Misconduct – Drug Abuse” that can definitely affect employment.

    1. That’s a hell of a good point. I want to see some headlines addressing this

  8. Here’s the funny part, “There is no limit to how much you can discriminate against a person with a criminal record”

    So who believes ‘criminal law’ is now discrimination? Don’t you dare call rapists, murders, robbers and theft a CRIME! How discriminatory… Are you a “criminist”.

    1. I guess the underlying part of that is – there is nothing ‘inalienable’ about choosing to violate law and committing crimes. Pretty sure criminal records show the charge so a claim to erase such record is just endorsing criminal behavior – since lets face it; they chose to do something illegal (justified or not).

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