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Democratic Lawmakers Speak On Restorative Justice In Cannabis Crimes

Both U.S. Congress and the Oregon Legislature are making moves to lessen the severity of cannabis crimes, proactively and retroactively. 

Oregon U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, state Sen. Lew Frederick and California U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee spoke Saturday at the Urban League of Portland on Senate and House bills focused on lessening the effects of small-scale cannabis convictions. 

In Oregon, people can get old cannabis-related crimes expunged, but it's a long and expensive process, said Sen. Frederick. He's sponsoring Senate Bill 420 in the Oregon Legislature. 

"This is a simple bill in many ways. It is calling for a vacation of all convictions regarding marijuana that would no longer be crimes in the state of Oregon right now," Frederick said. 

"There are so many people, thousands and thousands of Oregonians who have had their lives damaged, who have had their families ripped apart, who have had their ability to earn a living torn down because of a conviction for a blunt," said Portland's Urban League president and CEO Nkenge Harmon Johnson.

"While Oregon should be the first state to proactively expunge and vacate convictions for those who’ve had low-level cannabis crimes, we shouldn’t be the last state," Johnson said. "The feds should get right on top of it too, helping to bring back together that which has been torn asunder for years and years in the failed war on drugs."

Both Reps. Blumenauer and Lee are working on the federal level to decriminalize cannabis with House Bill 420.

" would treat marijuana like alcohol, being able to allow the states to do what states want to do, what local voters want to do," Blumenauer said.

Blumenauer said other committees within the House of Representatives will also be focusing on creating bills that address restorative justice and racial injustices in marijuana laws, as well as protection for state laws and research. 

Rep. Lee co-chairs the House Cannabis Caucus with Rep. Blumenauer. 

"Many of those convicted of misdemeanor and felony some states still no SNAP benefits. It’s outrageous. We have to remove these barriers," Lee said. "People deserve not only a second chance, but it’s almost an apology for this devastating war on drugs and unjust laws."

Adrian Wayman is the founder and owner of Green Box, Oregon's first cannabis delivery service.

Although he has a job in the cannabis industry now, he said his own cannabis conviction has created barriers in the past.

"I myself was arrested for possession about 10 years ago. That's something that's always been held over my head," Wayman said. "I've always had to check that box, whether I'm applying for a job or looking for housing. Who knows how many jobs I didn't get or places of housing that I wasn't able to live in because of my record."

<p>Oregon State Sen. Lew Frederick&nbsp;speaks at the Urban League of Portland on March 11, 2019.</p>

Oregon State Sen. Lew Frederick speaks at the Urban League of Portland on March 11, 2019.

<p>Adrian Wayman, founder and owner of Green Box, speaks at the Urban League of Portland on March 11, 2019.</p>

Adrian Wayman, founder and owner of Green Box, speaks at the Urban League of Portland on March 11, 2019.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.