Double Standard: Past Marijuana Possession Convictions still Haunt Thousands of Oklahomans

Double Standard: Past Marijuana Possession Convictions still Haunt Thousands of Oklahomans

With a medical marijuana license, you can legally possess up to three ounces of marijuana and face no trouble from police.

Even without a license or doctor’s prescription, you can still have an ounce-and-a-half of marijuana and simply say you have a medical need for it. You don’t have to describe the health condition. It’s a $400 misdemeanor fine at worst.

Despite this, there are thousands of Oklahomans suffering from the permanent effects of a felony criminal record stemming from the same drug conviction that occurred as recently as just a few years ago.

Even though voters approved what observers now consider among the most progressive medical marijuana laws in the nation, Oklahoma neglected to do one important thing. Past marijuana offenders were never relieved of the permanent stain of their felony drug records.

They’re still serving a second sentence for a crime now considered no worse than a traffic violation. Felons – violent or not – are restricted from student loans, countless job categories, public housing, running for office, possessing a firearm, and more. Universities, landlords, and employers routinely conduct criminal background checks and refuse to accept those with a record.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

The sweeping changes in Oklahoma in the three short years since voters approved medical marijuana are nothing short of astonishing.

Market analysts predicted $250 million in Oklahoma cannabis sales by year three. Estimates now top $800 million for year two. Roughly one in ten – over 360,000 Oklahoma residents – now have patient licenses, far more than forecast.

“(Medical marijuana) ended a system where regulation of an agricultural commodity was the exclusive domain of the criminal code … “ the Oklahoma Bar Association wrote last year. “The simplicity of this transfer belies the revolutionary nature of its effect, in spite of this massive alteration to Oklahoma law.”

Follow-up bills by lawmakers made it easier for past offenders to have their felony drug records expunged. But the process takes time. You may need to pay down remaining fines and fines, and most people will need to hire an attorney.

This is because Oklahoma had chosen not to make expungements automatic for cannabis as other states elected to do. California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey all have implemented automatic expungements for past marijuana convictions.

To the ongoing disappointment of drug reformers, an estimated 60,000 people in Oklahoma are today haunted by drug felonies, including an untold number of marijuana offenders.

It is an incredible and tragic double standard that we as a State now recognize that Marijuana possession is not a felony crime, and yet we allow thousands of Oklahomans to continue to suffer the weight of a felony conviction.

So, what can we do about it?

Although Oklahoma voters did not retroactively expunge pot felonies, plenty of opportunities exist to remedy this at any time through ballot measures, legislation, and blanket pardons.

  • The Governor could issue a blanket pardon to all nonviolent marijuana offenders. This New Year’s Eve and last, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned a total of 20,000 such felons. Another 500,000 people had lower-level misdemeanor offenses cleared from their records.
  • A state question could be passed to retroactively expunge any nonviolent criminal records associated with marijuana.
  • Lawmakers could craft a bill that grants expungement relief to marijuana offenders. This option would still require the signature of the governor.

What You Can Still Do If You Have A Marijuana Conviction

You can still take steps here to expunge a past marijuana felony from your record and create new opportunities for yourself. Wait times for expungements have dropped and the process has been made easier than in past years. Now is the time to see if you qualify.