Oregon Governor Signs New Law to Implement Marijuana Legalization That Includes Broad Sentencing Reform

Oregon Goes Beyond Other Legalization States to Reduce Harsh Marijuana Sentences and Allow for 78,319 Prior Marijuana Convictions to Potentially be Cleared

Diverse group of adults smoking marijuana at a bbq. Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance

OREGON—(ENEWSPF)—July 1, 2015. Today Governor Kate Brown signed H.B. 3400, an omnibus bill to implement Measure 91, the marijuana legalization initiative adopted by voters last November. The bill was approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives this week.

Measure 91 legalized possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and older and regulated commercial production, manufacturing, and retail sales of marijuana.  Legalization for personal use took effect July 1, 2015. As of that date adults 21 and older can legally possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana at home and up to 1 ounce of marijuana outside the home. They may also grow up to four plants at home, as long as they are out of public view. The regulatory structure for commercial retail sales will not be up and running until next year.  

In addition to addressing the implementation of Measure 91, H.B. 3400 contains broad sentencing reform provisions that extend well beyond the elimination of criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana and cultivation of up to four plants. The new law reduces most marijuana felonies to misdemeanors or lesser felonies with significantly reduced sentences. These changes allow eligible persons with prior marijuana convictions to have their convictions set aside, sentences reduced, and records sealed.

“A felony drug conviction carries significant collateral consequences that can mean the loss of public assistance, educational opportunities, employment, and housing,” says Tamar Todd, Director of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance. “With this new law, Oregon is not only taking a bold step forward to end the war on drugs, but is actively addressing and reversing the terrible consequences of that war.”

The reforms will apply to thousands of Oregonians who were previously convicted of marijuana-related felonies. There are approximately 78,319 marijuana convictions included in the Oregon Computerized Criminal History file that have the potential to become eligible for the set aside process. In 2012, more than 12,000 people were cited or arrested for the possession of marijuana. Statewide, black people are more than twice as likely to be arrested or cited for marijuana possession as white people, even though both groups use marijuana at similar rates.

The new law allows individuals to apply to have prior marijuana convictions set aside as if they were convicted under the law’s new sentencing structure. For example, if a person was previously convicted of possessing over 8 ounces of marijuana, formerly a Class C felony punishable with up to 5 years in prison and a $125,000 fine, the conviction would be eligible to be treated under the law’s new classification of unlawful marijuana possession: a Class A misdemeanor. A person with a Class A misdemeanor conviction is eligible to have his or her conviction cleared under Oregon statute 137.225.