An Oregon Congressman has proposed a federal "Clean Slate" act that would benefit many citizens by clearing their criminal records. The act targets federal pot violations that are no longer crimes under the laws of states like Oregon and Colorado. With more state likely to legalize the possession and use of marijuana, Congress may be willing to consider a law that would have been unthinkable not that long ago. The decades old practice of making penalties harsher and harsher, with no regard for fairness has never been under greater attack.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown already signed a state bill expunging certain marijuana offenses from Oregon criminal records. This bill would further clear records for people whose actions did not merit the harm a criminal record does. In addition to a wildly overcrowded prison system, the war on drugs has helped to impoverish millions of Americans whose criminal records make finding stable employment extremely difficult.
While the Clean Slate act is a start, more effort is necessary to correct the problem. Having a criminal record has never meant less than it does now. At the same time, accessing a criminal record has never been easier. A minor criminal record can prevent a person from getting housing, an education or employment. Background checks are easy and the judgment of those doing the checks is unknown. Just because an act has been legalized does not mean that a criminal record stemming from that act has no impact.
A criminal record is an ongoing punishment in ways that were unheard of not that long ago. Criminal justice reform should be about more than reducing our reliance on prisons. It should be about making our society better through a reasoned and balanced justice system.
Source: KMTR News Source 16, "Proposal: Clear federal pot charges from criminal records in legal states," by Anthony Kustura and News Staff, 30 July 2015