Letter: Marijuana 'offenders' deserve reparations
Marijuana 'offenders' deserve reparations
Editor of the Reformer:
Considering that consenting adult marijuana consumption is one of the definitive victimless crimes, where there is no apparent victim and no apparent serious pain or injury, it means it should never have been a crime to begin with. If anything, the history of marijuana laws and their application are arbitrary, irrational and draconian by any reasonable standards. Therefore, marijuana consumers are victims of the law, not offenders of the law.
Evidently, now that marijuana consumption is moving into the mainstream of legalization, it makes me wonder what the hell were we thinking of all those years of criminalization? Clearly, there was and is no good conscience behind criminalizing marijuana. Historically, the escalation of marijuana laws turned tens of millions of Americans into criminals who were not criminals before.
States in today's politicized environment leaning to legalization or having legalized marijuana, owe an enormous debt to those they have wrongfully mistreated. In this case, the fact that marijuana consumers were violating existing law is mitigated by the understanding that the enactments of marijuana offenses were unjust, politically motivated and injurious to those arrested and incarcerated. Thus, the real offenders are the elected officials and their constituents who supported and enacted the anti-marijuana legislation.
Over the past couple of years I've read calls for amnesty for marijuana prisoners. However, while the Vermont legislature does have a mechanism for expungement and sealing of records as of July 2012, crimes that qualify for this process does not include marijuana offenses. Moreover, amnesty is the process for individuals to petition for a pardon or forgiveness for an error or offense. Yet, most adult marijuana consumers who have been charged with a criminal offense in the past had no criminal intent, no criminal priors and did not create any tangible offense.
Under amnesty, marijuana prisoners are assumed to have had criminal intent so that the state can then say, okay, we forgive you. Then the state washes its hands and walks away. Amnesty absolves the state from any responsibility for wrongful incarceration. No state that does that much harm to so many people should think they can just legalize marijuana and then walk away.
The best hope and reparation for nonviolent marijuana prisoners is release and redress, not amnesty. More appropriately, redress is "compensation for injuries sustained, recovery or restitution for harm done, or, for injury or damages that demand equitable relief."
The right to petition for a "governmental redress of grievances" is a First Amendment right that is sustained by the growing acceptance that adult marijuana use is a fundamental human right.
Consequently, any state legislature that has legalized or intends to legalize marijuana should, by right, add or contain the meaningful, reasonable and effective necessary provisions for the retroactive redress of all nonviolent marijuana offenders.
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