Oregon's Blueprint for Drug War Justice: Expunge People's Weed Convictions

Marijuana possession records ruin millions of lives. Here's a step toward rectifying that.


Here’s Oregon, lighting up the runway of justice any time the long moral arc of the universe needs a place to touch down. The coastal state will become the first, and hopefully not last, U.S. state to expunge marijuana busts from its citizens’ records.

Oregon has some of the most progressive marijuana laws in America, as the first state to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis and, starting this year, allowing dispensaries to sell weed for non-medicinal use. With such lax restrictions, the idea that anyone should be restricted from volunteering at their kid’s school or disqualified from a job because they got busted with a jay in their 20s is asinine.

That’s not a hypothetical. Erika Walton, 43, gave the Times those examples of how her citation for marijuana possession has haunted her since she handed a bong to a cop 15 years ago. Her record has been essentially clean since, but she can’t apply for an apartment, job, or a school volunteer position without disclosing the fine.

Who, exactly, benefits from branding people with this scarlet letter M? You can buy weed recreationally in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and D.C. now, and more states are set to follow. As we ease away from prohibition, the rest of America should look to Oregon’s example to save a lot of heartaches. From 2011 to 2010, cops made more than 8.2 million marijuana arrests, nearly 90 percent of which were for mere possession. This will shock you, no, not really: Even with equal usage, black people were nearly four times as likely as whites to get popped. Every arrest mars a person’s record regardless of whether they’re convicted, uselessly fucking up the lives of the most vulnerable. We’re not really making progress in the drug war until we start getting some of those needless casualties off the scoreboard.