Grow, Gift, Repair

Legal for whom?

People are still getting arrested and jailed for possession, small sales, or breaking the rules in highly regulated legal markets. In 2016, NPR found that even as legal marijuana markets thrived in Colorado, arrests for black and brown teens rose dramatically. Overall, pot arrests increased or stayed the same between 2014 and 2016. When large states such as California legalize, arrests for pot offenses seem to plummet nationally. But what happens in San Francisco may not have much bearing on, say, Little Rock, Arkansas, where the city board of directors recently voted down an ordinance that would direct the police department to de-prioritize pot possession arrests. Between 2014 and 2016, pot arrests in Arkansas increased 30 percent.

And there are hundreds of people who may have served their time already but still have criminal records that make it difficult to find a job, get a scholarship, or access public benefits. Yet, other people — often white, wealthy people — are making millions off the same plant that put Thompson in prison for more than two decades and continues to ruin countless lives by entangling young people of color in the criminal justice system. According to the FBI’s latest Uniform Crime Report from 2018, states where marijuana is legal have seen a drop in pot arrests. But overall, marijuana arrests jumped 0.98 percent to 659,700 in 2017, up from 653,249 in 2016.

Thompson, whose case demonstrates the complexity of expungement, feels that he has paid his debt to society and wants to know what he can do to prove that he’s not a menace who deserves to die in prison.

“What do I have to do?” Thompson asks me over the phone from Flint. “If I knew, I’d do it. But I don’t know what else to do that I have not done,” he says, pointing to his clean record and the fact that his original crime was nonviolent.

“Yes, legalizing marijuana was a good thing, many millionaires will be made through marijuana business,” he says. “In addition, millions of sick people will be helped by this legalization. However, I am still here serving a 40 to 60 years sentence, I will continue to pray that someone will step up soon and put an end to this nightmare of politics that has been keeping me incarcerated.”

“My father’s gone. My mother’s gone,” Thompson says. “I can help society much more than I can in prison. I can give much more. I have a lot to offer society,” he says. “I don’t understand.”