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Oregon governor takes lead with marijuana pardons. It's time other states act as well.

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 11/30/2022 Carli Pierson, USA TODAY
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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recently announced that she will pardon 47,144 people who were convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana

Brown is the first governor in the country to take such an action, although President Joe Biden announced in October that he was pardoning people with federal convictions of simple marijuana possession. The president's move could help more than 6,500 people.

Cannabis activist and entrepreneur Evelyn LaChapelle, right, talks to an employee at a dispensary displaying her line of cannabis accessories in Oakland, Calif., on Oct. 7, 2022. © Haven Daley/AP Cannabis activist and entrepreneur Evelyn LaChapelle, right, talks to an employee at a dispensary displaying her line of cannabis accessories in Oakland, Calif., on Oct. 7, 2022.

In a country with permissive cannabis laws in many states – and with strong support among the American public for legalization – no one in the USA should have their lives ruined for possessing marijuana. 

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Brown clearly realized this and is ensuring that Oregonians with convictions for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana aren't held back any longer financially or otherwise. 

Other states should follow suit.

The law and its application

Today, 37 states, four U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., allow for medical marijuana use. Recreational possession and use is allowed for adults in19 states. 

America is ready for marijuana reform. Biden's pardon announcement proves it.

Despite such widespread acceptance of marijuana use, nearly half of drug busts still involve cannabis.

And even though Black and white people use marijuana at about the same rate, Black Americans are significantly more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts, even in states where marijuana is legal. Similarly, Black mothers are more likely than white mothers to have their children taken away from them for marijuana use.

The disconnect between Americans' acceptance of marijuana and how outdated laws are enforced begs for action

Time for change: Federal ban on marijuana use causes more harm than good

The consequences of conviction

A conviction for possessing even a small amount of cannabis can present a significant hurdle to employment, access to housing and education.

Economists say enforcement of cannabis laws also is expensive. A 2018 CATO Institute report found that state and federal governments could redirect significant amounts of money to meet other needs if criminalization of marijuana use ended. Budgets also might swell with new tax dollars collected from legal marijuana sales.

End war on drugs: He's serving 40 years in prison, while legal marijuana makes others rich

When Brown announced her pardon for Oregonians convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana, she also announced that about $14 million in fines will be forgiven. That's money families struggling with soaring food and energy prices can keep.

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More states should follow Biden and Brown's example by pardoning low-level, nonviolent marijuana convictions.

It's the right, and smart, thing to do. 

Carli Pierson, a New York licensed attorney, is an opinion writer and a member of the USA TODAY Editorial Board. Follow her on Twitter: @CarliPiersonEsq

More from Carli Pierson: 

When will brands stop sexualizing kids? Enough with the skimpy clothes and sick ad campaigns.

We can't ignore human rights issues plaguing World Cup and host country Qatar

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This is part of a series by USA TODAY Opinion about police accountability and building safer communities. The project began in 2021 by examining qualified immunity and continues in 2022 by examining various ways to improve law enforcement. The project is made possible in part by a grant from Stand Together, which does not provide editorial input.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oregon governor takes lead with marijuana pardons. It's time other states act as well.

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