WASHINGTON, DC – The Last prisoner project (LPP) and The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has made renewed efforts to help people negatively affected by the war on drugs.
The Cannabis Justice Initiative focuses on the mercy of people punished for cannabis violations that are no longer illegal in their state. The LPP and NACDL are also pursuing a broader change in cannabis policy at the local, state, tribal, and federal levels.
“Grace, which can include commutation and pardon, erasure, release of previous convictions, and sealing of records, are all means by which an individual’s rights can be restored,” said the NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer told mg.
Although usage rates are similar, black and Latinx people are much more likely to be arrested for cannabis violations than whites. Inequality cannot simply be dismissed as overzealous “rogue cops” when it appears that every layer in the criminal justice system is promoting systematic racism. Research has shown that prosecutors are twice as likely to impose mandatory minimum sentences on black offenders as white offenders charged with the same offense.
“With cannabis legalization in the nation, it is imperative that state and federal actors prioritize back-end relief for those who are still suffering from our nation’s unfair and unfair approach to cannabis policy,” the said LPP Executive Director Sarah Barley. “The Cannabis Justice Initiative will enable the Last Prisoner Project and NACDL to scale our efforts to repair this harm by providing as much relief as possible to individuals who are senselessly burdened by cannabis-related convictions.”
While the U.S. cannabis industry is rapidly gaining in value (estimated at $ 61 billion), it isn’t a flood that is lifting all boats. A 2017 survey found that only 4.3 percent of cannabis companies were owned by black entrepreneurs. While many white Americans are benefiting from the green rush, many black Americans are still being jailed on possession charges that are no longer illegal in their state.
Reimer hopes widespread grace efforts could be an effective first step in creating more equitable opportunities in the cannabis industry.
“These efforts can certainly create opportunities for those who would otherwise be persuaded to be excluded from a trade, industry or profession,” he said. “And there is absolutely no justification for denying these opportunities to those with a criminal record because they have now behaved lawfully.”
The Cannabis Justice Initiative will recruit and train volunteer lawyers to promote grace for those still affected by previous cannabis convictions. Because cannabis laws vary from state to state, the LPP and NACDL may have a lot of work on their collective plate. Though Reimer believes they are up to the challenge.
“The Cannabis Justice Initiative will look for ways to provide assistance in all states that have opportunities for relief,” Reimer said. “We will be looking for volunteers in these places and beyond to help those who otherwise would not have access to legal aid. Training will be tailored to the specific relief sought and local requirements in order to qualify for that relief. “
Americans seem ready to deviate from failed policies related to the war on drugs. NACDL President Chris Adams believes it is time to reverse decades of politics that have done little but riot and ruined lives.
“The damage that decades of treating drug use and abuse as a criminal offense rather than a public health issue has wrought is immeasurable – lives, families, communities, all destroyed,” said Adams. “This initiative will help correct at least some of these mistakes.”