Marijuana might be legal in some form in more than half the states, but what about those already incarcerated for simple possession in states where it’s been legalized?
Crafters of the recreational legalization measures which passed in Massachusetts and California in November painstakingly added provisions which allowed those with prior convictions to open dispensaries, a restriction which frustrates many potential ganjaprenuers in Colorado and Oregon, where those with a felony marijuana conviction in the last decade are prohibited from opening a dispensary.
But what about the thousands already in jail for simply possessing a substance that voters have now made legal?
In a 2013 report, the American Civil Liberties Union found that, between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent of marijuana arrests were for possession with no intent to distribute.
The figure represents nearly half of all drug arrests in the U.S. combined. Still more troubling, although studies suggest that blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, those of color were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana crime.
In response, marijuana activist groups are calling for amnesty, however, few avenues for amnesty for simple possession are on the books.
November’s ballot initiative in California not only legalized adult use, production, and distribution for recreational purposes, but the measure also included provisions for reclassification or expungement of marijuana-related charges. There will also be a way to be resentenced for those already incarcerated.
The ACLU reports that nearly 20,000 people were arrested for getting caught with weed even after California decriminalized marijuana possession in 2011.
“The war on drugs has been a racially discriminatory disaster and legalization should be an opportunity to try to correct that and make amends for past wrongs,” Tom Angell, the chairman of marijuana activist group Marijuana Majority told New Republic. “But there’s still a lingering, outdated, and cruel attitude that people who broke the law should be punished as much as possible, even if it prevents them from fully participating in society.”