Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Pardons Thousands For Cannabis Convictions

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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown
“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.” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Photo: Oregon.gov

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has announced that she is pardoning 45,000 Oregonians convicted of possession small amounts of marijuana.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday that she is issuing a pardon for Oregonians who have been convicted of simple possession of marijuana. The pardon is for people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana before 2016 when they were 21 or older. Brown’s pardon applies in cases where possession was the only charge, and there were no victims.

The pardon will remove 47,144 convictions for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, and will impact approximately 45,000 people, her office said. The move will also forgive more than $14 million in fines and fees associated with the offenses.

In a statement, Brown said, “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.”

The decision to issue the pardon, Brown said in the statement, represents an effort “to right the wrongs of a flawed, inequitable, and outdated criminal justice system in Oregon when it comes to personal marijuana possession.”

Brown also said, “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. And while Oregonians use marijuana at similar rates, Black and Latina/o/x people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

According to the governor’s office, the pardon applies only to state-level convictions, because the statewide judicial database used by the Oregon Judicial Department doesn’t have access to locally-operated city and county municipal or justice court records.

In addition, President Joseph Biden’s recent pardon of simple possession of marijuana convictions doesn’t overlap with any of the convictions pardoned by Brown, because Biden pardoned only federal-level possession of marijuana convictions. Brown’s pardon applies only to state-level convictions in Oregon.

Brown’s pardon also won’t result in anyone being freed from incarceration, according to the governor’s office, because no one is currently incarcerated in Oregon solely for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana.

The announcement of the pardon is the latest example of the governor taking action to commute the sentences of people convicted of crimes. For example, in 2020 and 2021, Brown granted clemency to more than 1,000 people convicted of crimes. Two Oregon district attorneys and family members of crime victims filed a lawsuit in early 2022, alleging that Brown had violated clemency procedures.

In August, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that Brown’s commutations were lawful. As The Oregonian/OregonLive reported, Brown has issued far more commutations than previous Oregon governors. While criminal justice reformers have expressed support, Brown’s actions have sometimes drawn criticism, including an objection earlier this year from Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who called Brown’s decision to free a man convicted of murder in Douglas County “wrong on every level, starting with its callousness toward the crime victim’s family and extending to all Oregonians counting on public officials to make decisions with public safety in mind.”

However, in a statement issued today regarding the announcement from Brown’s office, Wyden said he supported the governor’s decision to grant pardons in the case of simple marijuana possession convictions.

“Pardoning simple possession in Oregon is absolutely necessary to repair the damage done by the failed War on Drugs,” Wyden said in the statement. “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.”