The US state of Nevada has pardoned more than 15,000 people convicted of the minor offence of possession of marijuana between 1986 and 2017. Approved unanimously by the state’s Board of Pardons, the measure affects all those convicted of possession of up to one ounce (28.35 grams) of marijuana during those years.
"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," Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said in a press release. Following the passage of the law in 2016, the sale and possession of recreational cannabis has been legal in Nevada since July 2017.
In the six months that followed, up to 60 legal recreational marijuana dispensaries were opened, 25 of which were in Las Vegas. Medical cannabis had already been legalised long before in 2001 although there were no dispensaries for this type of cannabis until 2015. “Since the passage in 2016 and the decriminalisation of the possession of small amounts of marijuana, many Nevadans have had these minor offences 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,” continues the Governor in statements collected by Marijuana Moment.
It’s not that these pardons mean that convictions will be written off. In more than 30 years of convictions affected by this pardon in Nevada, the possession of cannabis has been punished harshly on the whole. Until 2001, possession of the plant was a serious crime, with prison sentences of one to four years and fines of between $5,000 and $20,000. From 2001 onwards, this punishment was applied only in the event that the sanctioned person had been caught for the third time with cannabis; in the case of first and second offences, penalties were limited to fines of $600 and $1,000 dollars respectively, and the possibility of the judge ordering attendance at a drug rehab programme.
But prison sentences and fines are not the only punishments. As for others with felony convictions, marijuana possession in Nevada has resulted in the loss of civil rights for thousands of people while they were serving their sentences. Voting was one of the rights those convicted lost until a few years ago. On 1st July 2019, Law 431 gave people sentenced to prison for serious crimes the right to vote. Other rights, such as serving on a jury, are lost for life both in Nevada and in more than half of the states of the USA.
Nevertheless, the search for employment is the greatest obstacle that those convicted of both minor and serious crimes have to face on a daily basis – including the possession of cannabis until 2017. Nevada law expressly authorises employers to request information about the criminal history of job applicants although the country's Civil Rights Law prohibits discrimination against a potential employee based on their criminal history. But Nevada law also makes exceptions to this protection of rights by protecting the employer who decides not to hire someone whose background includes serious crimes in the last seven years (including possession of marijuana until 2017), and not at all if employment is in casinos, police or hospitals or health programmes.