Vermont governor Peter Shumlin recently issued 192 pardons to individuals with marijuana convictions, as long as the offenses were not related to DUI charges or violent crimes. This bold move begs the question, will Massachusetts follow suit? Although pot has been decriminalized in Vermont, the green mountain state still hasn’t legalized recreational use. So, if Vermont can pardon those convicted of pot crimes, can’t Mass?
How can people be locked up for something that is no longer a crime? It’s a good question, and a problem that certain MA lawmakers are trying to resolve. A group consisting of the ACLU, Massachusetts Senator Jamie Eldridge, and Horace Small, the Executive DIrector of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, is currently crafting new legislation that would apply marijuana legalization retroactively throughout the state. This new legislation would, in turn, free individuals who are behind bars because of pot. “We’ve approved medical marijuana, decriminalization and now legalization. It shows that the voters don’t believe the people who possess or sell marijuana should be in jail,” said Sen. Eldridge in a recent statement to the Boston Globe.
Behind Bars for a Crime That is No Longer a Crime?
If the group gets its way, “offenders” who are in jail for nonviolent marijuana offenses will be released, and their related criminal records will be expunged. In addition to being fair, retroactive legalization would also help alleviate some of the overwhelming costs associated with mass incarceration in MA. “We have to look at releasing folks who are in jail for marijuana crimes that are no longer crimes,” Small said. “It’s only fair now that the prohibition is over to retroactively erase these records. Sometime in the next month or two we’ll have a piece of legislation.”
But not everyone agrees.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson thinks a blanket retroactive measure is unfair. “It’s counterproductive and it undermines the judicial system,” Hodgson said. Further, Hodgson and some others who share his view believe that many offenders are locked up for marijuana charges because of plea deals based on more serious crimes.
But Eldridge and Small agree that releasing violent criminals would be a mistake. “This doesn’t apply to someone working for a cartel or something,” Small said. “We need to look at what’s realistic and what’s over the top — there are a lot of conversations that we need to have.”
It seems that a case-by-case basis for retroactive legalization may be the first step.
In the case of Vermont’s pardoning, the crimes are forgiven and criminal punishments come to a close, but a pardon does not clear an individual’s criminal record. An expungement, on the other hand, does. If Eldridge and Small’s legislation passes, not only will marijuana “offenders” be released from jail, their related criminal records will be wiped clean. If an individual’s pot charge is associated with a violent crime or an OUI, however, expungement is not likely. Immigration status may also come into play. In any case, if you would like to receive an expungement for a marijuana conviction, contact a Boston criminal defense attorney today. Continue reading