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Call for Action Issued to District Attorneys in States That Have

Legalized Recreational Marijuana Use

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law launched a national effort this week urging local prosecutors in states that have legalized recreational marijuana use to expunge the records of those charged with misdemeanor possession.  Such a move, the national civil rights organization wrote in letters to District Attorneys across the country, would restore the rights of African Americans who disproportionately suffer the collateral consequences of low-level convictions.

“We may not be able to erase all of the damage that the war on drugs has unleashed on marginalized communities. But it is critical that we give all individuals with low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions a clean slate and a chance to take care of their families free from the barriers to reentry they may otherwise face. It’s time for District Attorneys to follow the lead of those jurisdictions that have started clearing convictions tied to low-level marijuana possession,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

She added: “Expungements are the right thing to do. Since states have started legalizing marijuana, those with criminal justice records for misdemeanor marijuana convictions have watched while others have become wealthy from the business of selling marijuana. While the wealthy and the resourceful benefit from a booming marijuana market, misdemeanor marijuana convictions continue to burden individuals seeking housing, credit, an education, or a job.”

Marijuana arrests account for half of all drug arrests nationwide.  Of the 8.2 million individuals arrested for marijuana between 2001 and 2010 in the United States, 88 percent were arrested for possession.  African Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession, demonstrating a stark inequality that continues to negatively affect communities.

Some prosecutors have taken it upon themselves to expunge the records of those with marijuana possession convictions.  With bipartisan agreement in Congress that states should be given discretion to determine enforcement, and the marijuana industry continuing to boom as states move to legalize, retroactive relief for individuals with low-level offenses is common sense.

Letters were sent to the District Attorneys in Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington State, a sample of which is available here.