November 30, 2016 | by Staff
This November, four states voted for the right of its inhabitants to legally use cannabis for recreational purposes. These new-law states, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada now have implications for the thousands of people presently incarcerated for using cannabis. In California alone, more than 6,000 people serving time who could potentially have their time behind bars shortened or even go free as a result of Prop. 64, according to an estimate by the Drug Policy Alliance.
Cannabis advocates have divergent views on precisely how much of a difference the new legislation will make. Some anticipate sweeping changes, while others believe that new legislation will not mean much to those serving for pot offenses.
In the first scenario, those convicted of non-violent cannabis crimes will be pardoned and released across the board. In addition, that facilities be put in place for the expunging their records. While this is the best case scenario for those convicted for cannabis offenses, the reality of it looks blurry. States like Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of cannabis in 2012 and to date, have not made changes to the sentences currently being served by those convicted of a low-level cannabis related crime.
Other advocates assert convicts’ sentences should be reduced retroactively, in line with the current standards, but not totally put aside, as a pardon.
Interestingly, the United States is one of the few countries that does not guarantee that current sentences will be relaxed if the punishment for a particular offense was lessened or eased at a date post-conviction. In the end, the long-range estimate for changes to federal cannabis laws and the Country’s position on retroactive ameliorative relief possibly means that changes to sentences will not come from this area in the short or medium-terms, and that focus should instead be placed on changes at the state level.
One equally important initiative in this new record-release process will be making changes to allow for quick record expungement. The expungement or removal of convictions from a person’s record can be viewed as having almost equal importance with being freed or serving a significantly lesser time in prison for cannabis related-offenses. This expunging, or wiping away, will remove the stigma attached to being a convicted felon, and entitle he or she to all the rights and privileges of a non-convicted person.
Having a record obstructs former criminals from fundamental life needs, like access to certain jobs, certain professional licenses, access to credit, even some scholarships and grants from universities. These restrictions make it difficult for one to become assimilated back into society.
While it seems reasonable that those incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis-related crime should have qualifying sentences amended, it looks as if it’ll take some time for state law to catch up with this approach. At the federal level, the changes are much further off, but we anticipate it’s only a matter of time before all convictions will either be pardoned, or reduced.
Marijuana legalization? Raising taxes for the rich? Getting rid of the death penalty? Early release for nonviolent criminals? pic.twitter.com/qyJYQJCs14— Jason (@got_heeem) November 8, 2016
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