NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon applaud Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s action today to pardon approximately 45,000 people with marijuana convictions under a state law that is no longer in effect. Additionally, Gov. Brown’s action will forgive almost $14 million in fines and fees associated with past marijuana convictions that continue to burden people.
Gov. Brown’s action follows an important step by President Biden last month to pardon thousands of people nationwide and in the District of Columbia with federal convictions for marijuana possession.
The failed policies of the war on drugs — including harsh sentences, overcriminalization, and surveillance of Black and Brown communities — have perpetuated racial disparities in the criminal legal system and contributed to mass incarceration. Voters in Oregon legalized marijuana in 2014, and now, 21 states have legalized marijuana. Today’s announcement is one more step towards justice for people who were convicted under outdated laws that have since changed.
The use of categorical clemency — that is, granting clemency not person-by-person, but to a group of people who fit certain criteria — is a way to rectify the harms of the war on drugs, and create systemic change in our criminal legal system.
The ACLU has long supported the use of clemency as a tool to correct injustice, and launched The Redemption Campaign in 2020, a first of its kind nationwide effort to release 50,000 people from federal and state prisons by executing campaigns that encourage officials to use their existing clemency powers in new and transformational ways. Through the campaign, the ACLU has worked with governors and the president to confront mass incarceration and racial injustice by granting commutations to large groups of people who are unjustifiably imprisoned.
The following statements can be attributed as noted:
Cynthia W. Roseberry, acting director, ACLU Justice Division:
“Clemency is a powerful tool to correct injustices and provide a second chance to thousands of our friends, family members, and neighbors. People are not disposable. Clemency is a message to the recipient that we believe they are not. For the grantor, clemency is a way to begin to correct past wrongs, while paving the way for a better, safer, more equitable future for our communities.
“By embracing the power of clemency, Gov. Brown and President Biden have taken significant first steps in addressing unfair sentences and racial disparities in our criminal legal system. But we cannot stop here. We call on other governors with clemency authority to correct past wrongs, and embrace the power of redemption.”
Tara Stutsman, campaign strategist, ACLU Justice Division:
"The majority of Americans support clemency as one of many tools for correcting harsh sentences that were motivated by outdated policies. By harnessing clemency in its many forms — commutations to return people to their communities, expungements to release people from the grip of a lifelong criminal record, and pardons to provide an opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation — governors have the power to correct racial disparities and alleviate systemic injustice in our criminal legal system."
Sandy Chung, executive director, ACLU of Oregon:
“As Oregonians, we have called for policies that create real safety and wellness for all our communities. The path to justice is through our values of equity, care and humanity — not vengeance or criminalization. We are grateful for Governor Brown's use of clemency as a powerful tool to address our state's outdated and racially-biased practices.”
Jessica Maravilla, policy director of the ACLU of Oregon:
“Fines and fees imposed by the criminal legal system create barriers to housing, schooling, and employment. Criminal-court fees thwart rehabilitation and fail to improve public safety. For low-income communities and people of color, they can result in continued entanglement in the criminal legal system. The Governor’s forgiveness of $14,000,000 in fines and fees is a significant step in addressing unjust systemic burdens created by prior convictions — especially, in this case, for a crime that no longer exists.”