More than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada have been automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor that was unanimously approved by the state’s Board of Pardons Commissioners on Wednesday.
The measure extends unconditional clemency to individuals with possession convictions of up to one ounce from January 1986 to January 2017. It was introduced to the board by Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) last week.
“Today is an historic day for those who were convicted of what has long been considered a trivial crime, and is now legal under Nevada law,” the governor said in a press release. “Since the passage of [adult-use legalization] in 2016 and the decriminalization of possession for small amounts of marijuana, many Nevadans have had these minor offenses remain on their records, in some cases as a felony. This resolution aims to correct that and fully restore any rights lost as a result of these convictions.”
While pardons don’t void convictions, they can restore rights such as the ability to vote, own a firearm or serve on a jury.
Those who are eligible for the pardon also have the opportunity to submit a form for expedited processing of documentation reflecting their status change.
“Today we took another step toward justice by pardoning thousands of Nevadans for actions that Nevadans decided should no longer be illegal,” state Attorney General Aaron Ford (D) said. “I’m proud to work alongside Governor Sisolak to make it easier for these Nevadans to get jobs, housing, and financial aid for college. Together, we’re making criminal justice reform a priority across Nevada.”
The resolution states, “All persons previously convicted in the State of Nevada for violations of statutes, ordinances, or codes prohibiting the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana not for purpose of sale, including without limitation NRS 453.336(4) and its subsections, are hereby unconditionally pardoned. This provision shall not be construed to extend to concomitant criminal convictions related to the underlying marijuana conviction.”
“The Secretary of the Nevada State Board of Pardons Commissioners shall prescribe instructions for persons seeking Unconditional Pardon documents for crimes pursuant to this Resolution, identified by the Nevada Offence Codes (NOC) below,” it continues. “The Secretary is hereby delegated authority to present Unconditional Pardons to the Commissioners for signature without further action by the Board.”
The board also noted in the resolution that “federal prohibition on cannabis was precipitated in part by racist notions that the consumption of cannabis incited minorities to violence.”
“The consequences of convictions for drug offenses can be significant, including the loss of eligibility for federal student financial aid in some circumstances, and the loss of certain constitutional rights,” it says. “Persons previously convicted in Nevada for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana are bearing the consequences of convictions for acts that Nevadans have now deemed lawful.”
Nevada voters approved a marijuana legalization ballot measure in 2016.
Last year, the governor signed a bill providing people with cannabis convictions a means to petition the court for expungements, but this resolution offers proactive pardons.
A Frequently Asked Questions document about the new board action notes that not everyone with a past marijuana possession conviction is covered by it.
“Prior to 2001, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in Nevada was a felony crime. Unfortunately, people convicted of this crime were lumped together people convicted of possession of other drugs. There is no way to separate these groups out,” it says. “Additionally, sometimes people charged with possession of one ounce or less of marijuana pled to other crimes as part of the plea bargain process. People falling into these two categories are not covered by this resolution here. However, the Pardons Board can still provide relief to individuals seeking to have those convictions pardoned.”
Elsewhere, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill this week that will allow that state’s governor to unilaterally pardon people with past convictions for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana.
Meanwhile, other top state officials have recently made arguments that marijuana reform is a necessary civil rights issue that’s particularly important to pursue as a means of addressing racial inequities.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said earlier this month that legalization was “about addressing the ills of this war on drugs.”
The governor of Virginia recently said that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans.