The state of California has legalized marijuana, embracing a common-sense reform that was first proposed decades ago. Unfortunately, during all those decades when the proposal was under consideration, hundreds of thousands of people were arrested, tried and convicted for misdemeanors and felonies related to pot possession or purchases.
Those convictions for crimes that are no longer crimes can prevent people from getting jobs, renting apartments or obtaining permits and licenses. That’s as absurd as it is unjust.
What to do? San Francisco officials plan to retroactively apply the new law to dismiss more than 3,000 misdemeanor convictions and review and reduce roughly 5,000 felony marijuana convictions from as far back as 1975.
“While drug policy on the federal level is going backwards, San Francisco is once again taking the lead to undo the damage that this country's disastrous, failed drug war has had on our nation and on communities of color in particular," says San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. "Long ago we lost our ability to distinguish the dangerous from the nuisance, and it has broken our pocketbooks, the fabric of our communities, and we are no safer for it."
The district attorney is right, and prosecutors in other California counties are looking to follow his lead — as are law enforcement officials in other states that have legalized marijuana.
But what about states that have yet to recognize the necessity of taking steps to end the abuses associated with a failed drug war? Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Matt Flynn, a prominent lawyer and former state Democratic Party chair who has made marijuana legalization one of the themes of his campaign, has an idea for how to address the issue quickly and efficiently.
Flynn proposes to pardon Wisconsinites who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.
Even if Republican-controlled legislative chambers were to resist legalization, Flynn says he could use his pardon powers as governor to do the right thing.
"The Legislature cannot take that power away from me," Flynn said at a Madison forum on criminal justice reform. "The Legislature can do a lot of things that I think are wrong, but I think a good, active Democratic governor through executive orders and pardons can accomplish a lot."
Flynn doesn’t plan to pardon people who are serving time for violent crimes. “But,” the gubernatorial candidate said, “if it is pure possession and even multiple possessions, I will pardon them.”
One of a number of Democrats running against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who embraces the drug war fanaticism of President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Flynn promises to “stand up to Trump and Sessions” by supporting action “to remove marijuana from the federal list of Schedule I narcotics.” He also promises to stand up to Wisconsin legislators who might resist legalization by taking the issue to the people — by supporting "a public referendum on cannabis legalization in Wisconsin.”
Together with his commitment to pardon nonviolent offenders convicted of marijuana possession, Flynn’s legalization agenda — which he spells out on his campaign website — is a model for gubernatorial candidates in Wisconsin and across the country.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and @NicholsUprising. Nichols is the co-author, along with Dave Zweifel, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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