There’s been a recent trend in the U.S. criminal justice system to decriminalize marijuana possession and to fix what many see as unduly harsh sentences for certain offenders. For example, The New York Times reported that Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, a Democrat, has pardoned 192 people who had been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession. These pardons had been given to people who had no previous violent crimes or felony convictions, and who had no DUI or reckless driving convictions.
The outgoing governor noted that there is still a damaging stigma attached with drug convictions, even as the laws have been quickly changing. He also stated that the War on Drugs was “an incredible failure” and that Vermont should follow the example of other states and legalize and regulate marijuana. The incoming Republican governor, although urging caution, may be open to eventually legalizing marijuana and stated that he supported the pardons.
Even if Vermont citizens did not apply for a pardon for marijuana possession, they can still have their convictions expunged through a court process that was created through a 2013 state law regarding decriminalization.
These types of reforms, such as the Justice Department’s efforts to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges and “banning the box” that asks federal job applicants about their criminal histories, are important because even having a misdemeanor on your record can prevent you from securing employment, attending college, and traveling abroad. These types of reforms can also free up municipal, state, and federal dollars for other fiscal priorities.
Although gubernatorial pardons can give people a second chance at living full, vibrant lives, what’s needed even more is comprehensive criminal justice reform regarding non-violent drug crimes. The incoming presidential administration may change some of the current federal policies, and some states may follow suit - depending on what the new Attorney General proposes.
Even though the federal government is opposed to the legalization of marijuana, more states are becoming open to the idea. With federal prisons dealing with overpopulation troubles, marijuana legalization may be one way to decrease prisoner populations as well as give state governments new streams of income.
If you have been charged with any drug crime, reaching out to an experienced criminal defense attorney can be your first step to getting your life back on track.