Sam Kamin and Joel Warner expect that, “as marijuana prohibitions continue to weaken and an increasing number of states reconsider stringent drug sentencing rules, people could begin to lobby to remove more serious pot convictions from their rap sheets or even get out of prison”:
However, if either the courts or clemency boards take up the work of reviewing past marijuana convictions, they will have to tackle a very thorny issue: Convictions don’t always match the crime that was committed. Many of the low-level offenders who might seek clemency struck plea deals with prosecutors, and those negotiations can obscure the underlying crimes. UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman offers an example: “It’s entirely possible that a guy was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and cannabis, and the plea bargain he pled to was just the cannabis charge.” So how do you determine, sometimes many years later, whether a given conviction actually corresponds to a defendant’s true criminal culpability? And even if a marijuana conviction does in fact correspond to a marijuana offense, are all marijuana offenses created equal? Should it matter whether the 12 ounces of pot someone was busted with came from small-scale farms in Humboldt County, California, or were imported from Mexico by drug cartels?
Fascinating. At some point in the future, if and when cannabis is seen as the simple plant and medicine that it is, those behind bars – some for life – for non-violent offenses involving cannabis are going to seem awful victims of a regime long since discredited. Some relief will surely have to be granted – but I can sure see the complexities.