President Joe Biden recently pardoned individuals convicted of simple marijuana possession. However, this will not affect most people convicted of simple marijuana possession.
The president announced these pardons on October 6, 2022. However, the pardons only apply to federal convictions, which, as of January 2022, affected no one because no one in federal custody had marijuana possession convictions. Regardless, the president urged governors to follow his example and release any inmates convicted of marijuana possession in their states.
The president’s pardons will not affect most people convicted of marijuana possession because most arrests happen at the state level. For example, in Oklahoma, simple marijuana possession is a misdemeanor offense. In addition, it is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
According to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s annual crime report, 4,400 adults in Oklahoma faced charges for possession of marijuana. This number accounted for 45% of all arrests for drug possession. However, not many people in Oklahoma are in jail for marijuana possession because of State Question 780. This law changed some non-violent drug and theft-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Unfortunately, a misdemeanor can still negatively affect an individual’s life significantly. For example, misdemeanors may cost individuals employment opportunities. Having a criminal record at all can hurt an individual’s ability to obtain a job because most employers do conduct a criminal background check. In addition, a misdemeanor can make obtaining housing, certificates, licenses, or even an education more difficult.
The fines and fees associated with a marijuana conviction can also prove burdensome for many because of the fine. Furthermore, the conviction remains on an individual’s record permanently, though State Question 820 could change that. If it passes, State Question 820 will legalize recreational marijuana in Oklahoma. It would also allow individuals with past marijuana convictions or currently incarcerated for certain cannabis-related crimes to petition the court to have their records expunged or considered for re-sentencing. It remains uncertain if State Question 820 will pass, but voting begins in March 2023.
Employers in Oklahoma should keep an eye on State Question 820. Should it pass, employers will want to review their current drug screening policies. It may prove beneficial to start addressing policies and making changes before March 2023 to ensure compliance with the potentially new law.
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