War on Drugs

Oregon Governor Pardons 45,000 Marijuana Offenders

The ACLU of Oregon is calling on other state governors to follow suit.


Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced yesterday she will pardon 45,000 people convicted of simple possession of marijuana, in one of the largest uses of the pardon power by a governor to wipe weed offenses off the books.

Brown's office says the pardons will remove 47,144 convictions for possession of a small amount of marijuana from individual records and forgive more than $14 million in associated fines and fees.

"No one deserves to be forever saddled with the impacts of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana—a crime that is no longer on the books in Oregon," Brown said in a press release. "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."

Brown's announcement follow similar actions by President Joe Biden, who announced in October that he was pardoning roughly 6,500 people with prior federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana.

As Reason's Jacob Sullum wrote, Biden's pardons were a welcome step, but the actual impact of his orders will be modest:

His blanket pardon for low-level marijuana offenders, while long overdue, will affect a small percentage of people with federal drug records. Without new legislation, marijuana use will remain a crime under federal law, as will growing and selling marijuana. And while rescheduling marijuana will make medical research easier, it will not make cannabis legally available to patients unless and until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves specific products as safe and effective….

To put the impact of Biden's mass pardon in perspective, about 400,000 people are currently incarcerated for drug offenses in the United States, including about 67,000 federal prisoners. During the last two decades, police typically made between 1.5 million and 1.9 million drug arrests every year. In recent years, marijuana arrests have accounted for more than a third of the total, and the vast majority of those cases (92 percent in 2019) involved possession rather than cultivation or trafficking.

Still, the broad, largely unencumbered clemency powers wielded by governors and the president are one of the fastest and most direct ways to alleviate the injustices of the drug war. In 2019, Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker granted roughly 11,000 pardons for low-level marijuana convictions, and in 2021 Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis pardoned 1,351 convictions for possession of two ounces or less of marijuana.

Civil liberties groups applauded Brown's actions and urged other governors to follow suit.

"By embracing the power of clemency, Governor Brown and President Biden have taken significant first steps in addressing unfair sentences and racial disparities in our criminal legal system," Cynthia W. Roseberry, acting director of the ACLU's justice division, said in a press statement. "But we cannot stop here. We call on other governors with clemency authority to correct past wrongs, and embrace the power of redemption."