Black Americans need marijuana conviction relief for unfair prison sentences

As more states continue to legalize marijuana, access to expungement and marijuana conviction relief for Black Americans must remain a top priority. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has created a Post Cannabis Conviction Toolkit to provide a comprehensive overview of three main approaches states can use to begin to repair the social, political and economic consequences of marijuana-related criminal records. The toolkit also provides attorneys and advocates with resources to determine whether their states permit the expungement, sealing, or vacating of these records while also highlighting tools for advocates seeking local reform.

The War on Drugs has disproportionately harmed Black Americans and other marginalized communities, and a prior marijuana conviction is a major barrier to accessing the much-needed opportunities and resources to advance their quality of life, leading to a continuous cycle of economic hardships. These individuals cannot receive public benefits, apply for student loans or secure a well-paying job. Though we may not be able to erase all of the damage done to marginalized communities, providing assistance to these individuals will help break the cycle of devastation and desolation.

“Although marijuana has become decriminalized in a number of states, Black Americans still cannot acquire the benefits of post-conviction relief,” said Tianna Mays, an attorney with the Criminal Justice Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Those who have been previously convicted of cannabis-related crimes struggle to get jobs, find housing, and become licensed for professional vocations. With expungement becoming more accessible, we must ensure that Black Americans receive their fair share of conviction relief. The fight for racial justice and equality needs the support of attorneys and advocates.”

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