Politics

He was arrested for marijuana 17 years in the past. It's authorized now. Why is he nonetheless responsible of a criminal offense?

Khalil was driving a car in a suburb of Boston with his brother and a friend in 2003 when, he recalls, a police cruiser "turned the lights on and passed us."

The officer claimed that his vehicle matched the description of a vehicle involved in a shootout. According to the police report, as the officer approached the car, he saw Khalil "walking around in his seat to hide something." The officer told Khalil to get out of the car. When he patted him, he noticed a substance he would later write that "through training and experience" he believed it could be a package of illegal drugs.

A small bag of marijuana came out of Khalil's pocket – and then the cuffs came out.

Seventeen years later, 44-year-old Khalil, who lives in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, is still enjoying the pot. He smokes and likes to listen to music, typically hip-hop, like Griselda and Freddie Gibbs or R & B (“anything that is soulful,” he said). By 2016, Massachusetts had alternated indictments, fines, arrests, indictments, convictions, and imprisonments for possession, use, or sale of marijuana. Nowadays it's legal to smoke a pot while listening to music – or have a small bag in your pocket and take a ride – legal.

Khalil is still calling on BS for his nearly two-decade-old arrest. His lawyer has also noted the proliferation of "fake stops" against black and brown people in the state. Of the three people who drove in the car that day in 2003, only Khalil was convicted of a crime for owning less than a quarter ounce of marijuana. This belief continues to cast a shadow over his life.

In 2019 alone, more than half a million people across the country were arrested for simple possession of marijuana. This is more than the total number of people arrested for all violent crimes combined in the same year. Most of the people involved in this onslaught of criminalization were black and tan; Studies have shown that blacks are, on average, nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, although both use marijuana at similar rates.

After decades of pushing back – from calls for justice, requests for rationality, and scientific studies finding the benefits of marijuana use for managing pain, managing seizures, and treating PTSD, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, and nausea, among other things, with minimal side effects and low levels of nausea Adult addiction risk states, including Massachusetts, have begun rolling back criminalization of the pot.

In 2014, Colorado became the first state to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana, opening the doors to a home industry of growers, fancy pharmacies, weed delivery services, weed vending machines, and even pot tourism. Today, legal sales in Colorado are over $ 1 billion a year, contributing to hundreds of millions in tax revenues. Since then, Colorado has been followed by ten more states, and in November voters in four more states approved legalization campaigns to continue doing so in the coming months.

The victories for marijuana advocates reflect a profound shift in cultural attitudes towards the drug, equating them with money cows like alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling. A happy and lucrative cloud of marijuana smoke appears to float in the air. The legalization movement isn't just about destigmatizing a facility and sorting out the profits, however. It is about stopping the multitude of damage still to be claimed – racially targeted over-police, mass incarceration and defamation of drug users – and building a fairer future.

In order to achieve this idyllic future, the reformers do not only look to the just pastures on the political horizon. They also try to undo the mistakes of the past that ruined life.

During the campaign, both President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris repeatedly mentioned the idea of ​​deletions or retroactive deletion of previous convictions for low-level marijuana offenses, mostly possession. And the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (the MORE Act), which would simultaneously wipe out convictions when it legalized marijuana at the federal level, sailed through a vote in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives this month (though it was passed in Republican law). Senate led is considered unlikely).

However, Massachusetts history reveals the shortcomings of gradual legalization for those harmed by the drug war. Sometimes those in power shoot the confetti about legalization and only then seem to remember that people are still bound by old beliefs or remain incarcerated. While marijuana use is legalized and normalized – as a new industry is born, while Grandma openly smokes to relieve her arthritis, and mom and dad pop weed gums after plugging in the tykes – Khalil still can't get a job over a 17- . years of marijuana belief.

When Massachusetts legalized marijuana in 2016, lawmakers initially ignored what to do with those who had committed minor convictions for pots prior to our new era of cannabis education. Following grassroots efforts and leadership by criminal justice lawyers in the community and state, a new and complicated law of 2018 instituted a system of annihilation. Khalil's attempts to erase his records have so far been a halting and unsuccessful fiasco. (Vox uses Khalil's Muslim name, not his legal name. Fearing ongoing discrimination, he and his lawyer demanded that his legal name not be published.)

In practice, those seeking expulsion not only need a lawyer to secure one, but are subject to the whims of a judge who must decide that the deletion of records is "in the interests of justice". An unconvinced judge and delays caused by the coronavirus dragged Khalil's case on for more than a year.

According to NORML, a marijuana legalization advocacy group that has been dealing with the issue for 50 years, there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people like Khalil across the country whose previous marijuana beliefs continue to weigh on their lives like millstones. "They have countless lives that have been ruined," said Kimberly Napoli, an expulsion attorney, member of the Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory Board and a major player in the state's legalization movement. In other words, extinction advocates and marijuana policy reformers have much to do.

Volunteers working for the DCMJ, a group in Washington, DC calling for the removal of cannabis from controlled substances law, roll hundreds of marijuana joints before protesting in the U.S. Capitol in 2017 calling on lawmakers to stop marijuana -Loosen laws.

Paul J. Richards / AFP via Getty Images

Khalil does not remember the details of the second time he was charged with marijuana possession three years later, in 2006. He only knows that it was one of a dozen times – more than 20 times according to Khalil's estimation – He was racially profiled and stopped and harassed by the police. "It's just me out on the street and the cops are just profiling me," he said. The police said to me, "I don't like a bunch of black people gathering. This is especially true for black men … even on your own street." And with the pot in his pocket, he got his second shipment of marijuana.

Despite his upset story with the plant, Khalil said simply, "I like to smoke in my spare time and don't see myself quitting." There he is now, even though he has taken breaks in the past, every year for Ramadan. He said he thought about quitting whenever his "financial situation looked strange". Since he had difficulty finding or keeping employment over the years, it was very "fun".

Khalil is the father of three children and a self-described father of a family. He holds it cautiously, does not celebrate and speaks to his neighbors about keeping the stairwell in front of his apartment door free of rubbish and hard drugs. He and his girlfriend enjoy working on abstract and intricate puzzles – in mid-October one was partially assembled on the table, another completely glued on and hung on the wall. A collection of toy figures made from spray paint can populate the cloak under a flat screen television. "We really like art and self-expression in this house," said Khalil. He smokes at the squat coffee table in front of the section.

Khalil grew up in a two-parent house in the nearby middle-class Mattapan neighborhood. He now lives in a council house in Dorchester. The downward trend of his middle-class youth hit him hard. "There are people here who are unhappy and there are a lot of drugs" – mainly heroin and crack.

The main reason for his efforts to move to a quieter neighborhood was the story that keeps coming up in the application process. In one of his many attempts to get a solid position, Khalil managed to get a second interview with Whole Foods in 2016, but then, he said, they did a background check and told him his drug history was a no go . He applied elsewhere and sometimes went to temp agencies, but nothing worked in the long run. He lost a job and then found work on the third shift in a warehouse but was unable to manage the schedule with his three children. Since Khalil was unemployed, the family relied on his girlfriend's two jobs to keep things down.

“I wake up with the intention of praying so that the rest of the day will go well. This is my life, someone who obliges his will to God as soon as he opens his eyes, ”said Khalil. One of his prayers is to clear his records. Another: "I've been praying to find a job for years."

If you were stopped by the Massachusetts police before 2008, when the state began to gradually decriminalize possession, and you had a small amount of marijuana in your pocket or a single joint behind your ear, you could face an arrest, a fine, or even exposed to a prison time. The crime could become a permanent fixture on your file, hampering efforts to find a job, find shelter, and even access student loans. If you stopped after December 2016, when the state fully legalized marijuana possession, you could flaunt a spliff in a cigarette holder and have an ounce of weed in your belt pouch and you would not bring charges, your career prospects would remain the same , and you could apply for an apartment or a loan without any additional worries.

It is this sense of arbitrariness that annoys Khalil and others who believe that breaking marijuana beliefs is a necessary step during the legalization process, not just an afterthought. (At the federal level, any marijuana possession is fined up to $ 1,000 for the first offense and one year in prison. From then on, it increases. However, federal prosecutions became extremely rare after the Obama administration announced In 2013, it would no longer disrupt marijuana operations that followed state guidelines and would continue to decline.)

The legal – some call it ethical – discrepancy in Massachusetts wasn't addressed by the state for nearly two years when the state passed an expulsion bill in 2018 and lawmakers still didn't make it easy. In fact, it was a mess.

Activists like those from NORML, an advocacy group for the legalization of marijuana (pictured 2010), have pushed the national conversation regarding deletion. But how you deal with old top beliefs still varies from state to state.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

2019 marijuana activists hold up a 51-foot dinghy during a rally in the U.S. Capitol to ask Congress to pass cannabis reform laws. The federal law on the reinvestment and eradication of marijuana opportunities is expected to be put to a vote in Congress this December.

Caroline Brehman / CQ Appeal via Getty Images

In theory, someone like Khalil just needs to petition the court to overturn a conviction. In reality, however, they will likely need to hire a lawyer or find one who works for free and present the case to a judge, usually with a pile of documents, evidence, a clear argument and references. For some, convictions have already been sealed following a pre-established process that prevents some employers from seeing a previous conviction, although police, prosecutors, and some state and all federal employers may still see it. Now someone with a sealed record would have to unseal it and then petition for deletion.

Khalil has been trying to bleach his old rap sheet for more than a year. Even when courts reopened in late summer and early fall after partially closing due to Covid-19 restrictions, some courts did not process deletions. "Access to the deletion does not take place," Pauline Quirion, Khalil's lawyer, told me, adding the old saw: "The delayed justice is the denied justice."

Erasing your name is nowhere near as difficult in other states. Colorado Governor Jared Polis recently pardoned nearly 3,000 people convicted of possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. If you want to get a pardon in Colorado, the process is now automated. All you need to do is check a website to see if it got deleted. Similar programs exist in California, Illinois, and Vermont. Other states are offering record sealing – half a measure, Quirion said.

As more of the population lives in states where marijuana is legalized or even celebrated, it is becoming increasingly clear that the continuing punishment for committing an act that is no longer a crime is inconsistent with current beliefs about justice or marijuana. A steady drumbeat of improvement is gaining momentum, and erasure is paramount in demands for racial and social justice.

The MORE bill, sponsored by Head of Justice of the House Jerry Nadler (D-NY), with Kamala Harris as the main sponsor of the Senate Companion Bill, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, the legalization of marijuana in the federal Advance the area and include a funding mechanism. Incentives for states to implement eradication programs. (At the same time, the World Health Organization recommends that the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs recognize the medicinal value of marijuana. The United Nations ended the classification of the drug as "particularly dangerous" in December.)

In New Jersey, whose legalization election move is being closely watched as it could knock down neighboring New York's domino – where the medical-only industry is already a billion dollar market – it has been favored by proponents Racial Justice put considerable pressure on convincing state legislators to include provisions on deletion. The "virtual erasure" exemption measure contained in the Senate version of the bill provides for the automatic cancellation of previous convictions. (The exception applies to those seeking employment in the judiciary, law enforcement, or correctional industry. Similar bills have been approved by both the State Assembly and the Senate, but have yet to be finalized.)

Rev. Charles Boyer, director of the New Jersey-based faith group Salvation and Social Justice who searched for extinctions and provided licenses to sell to those previously fined for selling marijuana, recently told Gothamist: " The (original New Jersey) The election question leaves no room for racial justice. “As reformers learn, states that do not automatically flow into legalization efforts and only try to excuse ex post facto could end up in Massachusetts' mire of extinction.

Part of the difficulty of deleting a record in Massachusetts is technical. The web portal is submitting a petition that appears to be purposely not working. As I tried to follow the steps, I was faced with a barrage of error messages, had to download a new version of Acrobat Reader, and ended up on the "What to do if you can't open court PDFs" website. Forwarded. I worked a few more minutes and then, in that particular way, I felt angry that bureaucratic websites can annoy you about how I wanted to smoke myself. "Even if it looks like the file doesn't exist," says the page, "save the file on your computer anyway."

Massachusetts State Representative Chynah Tyler (D), who sponsored a U.S. state bill that focuses on automatically performing marijuana deletions (although it's currently stalled), told me that there was a problem with the current law is that some of the state's records are only kept on paper. Even an algorithm to identify old marijuana violations in the system – one of the suggested components of their auto-erasure calculation – may not work.

A seven-page, step-by-step brochure from Greater Boston Legal Services guides applicants through the current process: "There is a stigma attached to my records and that puts me at a disadvantage when applying for a job, accommodation or other opportunities." Example explanation reads. The brochure suggests providing evidence of why your file should be deleted and what other charges may be linked to the case, and reminding you to check the box to request a hearing.

"If your goal is to help people have second chances and not be bound by the mistakes of their youth, you need a better statute," said Quirion, who is also director of CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) of Greater Boston Legal is Services.

There are also systemic barriers to deleting your records. Because of the arcane, almost Kafkaesque, trouble getting the state to let you off the hook, which is no longer a crime in Massachusetts, you need a lawyer who can cost hundreds of dollars or more. And if you're looking for expulsion because the violation made it difficult for you to find a job, there probably isn't thousands of dollars lying around. A study published in the Harvard Law Review and conducted in Michigan found that people who were expelled increased their wages by an average of 25 percent over two years. Also, the same racism that fueled the drug war, and prosecuted and prosecuted the same people who are now searching for these expulsions, is spreading to the wider economic sphere.

"We know that people in these communities are disproportionately affected, are still over-police, are still overused and still have less access to health care," and economic opportunities, says Napoli of the state's marijuana advisory board. She pointed to the current climatic economic inequality in parts of the state. As recently as 2017, a study found that the median net worth of white Boston residents was just under $ 250,000. The median net worth of black residents was $ 8. When you get your records cleaned up of something that is no longer a crime, hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal costs, assets – or the poignant lack of it – can matter.

Under the Massachusetts Erasure Act, it must be in the "best interests of justice" for a judge to erase your records for a marijuana violation. Part of the problem is how this premise is interpreted. Khalil first appeared in court with a Greater Boston Legal Service attorney in August 2019. They brought his case and then waited until November when the judge denied him: clearing Khalil's name was not in the best interests of justice.

That was as much explanation as they got. Quirion, having taken on his case from another attorney, put him on a philosophical stance that some judges take. That philosophy is endorsed by John Carmichael, a Boston suburban police chief and another member of the state cannabis advisory board, who told the Boston Globe in 2019, "It's legal now – that doesn't mean you were against this 10 years ago Break the law that it shouldn't be part of their records. "

Since Khalil's rejection, he has filed new motions and complaints. The next step in the appeal process was set to move forward in November and Khalil was hoping for a decision by the end of the year, but the process was again delayed.

Throughout the slog – the more than a year struggle to clear his record – he applied for another job as a driver delivering fish and other products to grocery stores and restaurants in the Boston area. The first interview went well and the manager signaled that he would be a good fit for him. A few days later he received another call. They were sorry. "When they let me know," said Khalil, "they said that there are some things on my file that company policy does not allow us to hire you for."

Buyers line up on the opening day of Boston's first recreational cannabis store, Pure Oasis, this year. The black owners have been enrolled in an economy strengthening program that ensures that the drug war-hit communities play a role in the “green onslaught” of the pot economy.

Jessica Rinaldi / Boston Globe via Getty Images

Expulsions are one of many issues regulators and industry can focus on in order to work towards equity. Several people I spoke to noted that the country was subject to a one-time legalization. "Because it's not just about legalizing cannabis," said Napoli. "We're really creating a new industry. And we're giving people opportunities that weren't there before. So when you give an opportunity, you have to consider those who lost the opportunity because of the ban on the same commodity."

As Khalil put it, "I'm in a privileged position to see how this will change for black and brown people. People have the (short) end of the stick when it comes to the drug war."

Horace Small, executive director of the Boston Union of Minority Neighborhoods and a member of the Weed Board, as he called the state cannabis advisory board, told me, “We can create wealth, create jobs, and invest in our communities. This industry will last for generations. “But before wealth rains, the state must do what is right for those whom it has wronged. With legalization, it "accelerated everything," said Small. Justice was an afterthought at best.

According to a report by National Expungement Week – a coalition of organizations focused on providing services to communities hit by the war on drugs – only 4 to 6 percent of those eligible for deletion continue the process . And a study in Massachusetts found that of the 724 people who tried to eradicate their marijuana violations in 2018, only 135 or less than 20 percent were successful.

Even amid a cultural and legal shift in Americans' relationship with cannabis, those seeking justice still face an uphill battle. (Even the cannabis label is part of some marketers 'rebranding program that distinguishes marijuana' s role in "wellness" and yuppie recreational use and the drug that brought Khalil to jail.)

An ACLU report released in 2020 found that the total number of marijuana arrests fell 18 percent between 2010 and 2018 from the previous eight-year period, but there were still 6.1 million such arrests. (While some states have legalized controlled recreational use, it remains a crime in those states to sell the drug without a license.) In a Panglossian note, the ACLU report hoped that its findings would be "the final nail in the coffin for the." crazy war on marijuana. “But neither statistics nor science has ever had much influence on drug laws.

"Cannabis is one of those things that has been in people's hands for so long," said Napoli, who is also director of diversity programs at New England Treatment Access, a cannabis company. The drug's community appeal, long human history, and brutally racist political past also make the plant uniquely suited to uplifting oppressed and purposeful communities, she said.

As a reward for decades of drug war that has torn communities apart, a newly legalized industry – if not engulfed by "big bud" operations, some of which are owned by tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical giants – could create prosperity in the world same communities.

That fall, I visited an industry leader near Bryant Park in Manhattan: a sleek Apple Store-style medical marijuana dispensary run by MedMen. There were tables with dozens of inlaid iPads promoting their cannabinoid offerings, plus a crew of pharmacists in the background and savvy staff in the foreground to address specific issues. Although MedMen currently only caters to medical users (in California, Illinois, and Nevada, MedMen also serves recreational customers), they've made eye-catching holes in the walls that run down racks to display a pharmacopoeia of recreational tinctures, chocolates, and sprays make lotions and goldfish crackers. The whole business – really the whole industry – seems to be built with the future in mind. For some, however, it's the past to be reckoned with.

"We believe that when a state legalizes cannabis," MedMen's CFO Zeeshan Hyder told me, "state lawmakers should include the deletion of previous cannabis records and provide retroactive relief."

Khalil is also hoping for relief. "I need a piece of this … I want some brick and mortar," he said. Building tomorrow's just society must include absorbing and corrupting past harm. See eradication – and marijuana reform in general – as a step towards redress.

Khalil was still struggling to find a job and instead found a scholarship program. Mass CultivatED – an brainchild of state lawmaker Chynah Tyler and a partially state-funded NGO – claims to be the first in the national jail-to-jobs program. CultivatED begins with a paid, month-long course on the science and business of cannabis, followed by a month-long internship divided into two weeks in a grow house and two weeks in a pharmacy.

In one of the first classes in the cannabis industry, Khalil and his classmates watched videos of sophisticated farms and Tony dispensaries run by well-heeled green-fingered technicians. “These white guys make millions of dollars. Ich bin es leid, diese Jungs in diesen Videos zu sehen “, sagte Khalil. "Ich möchte einer der Jungs sein, die diese Videos machen."

Bei MedMen, das eine Kette neuer, Boutique-ähnlicher Geschäfte betreibt, die legales Cannabis verkaufen, verwenden Kunden schlanke Technologie, um aus den (vielen) Angeboten auszuwählen. "Ich brauche ein Stück davon", sagt Khalil über die aufkeimende Rechtsbranche. "Ich will etwas Ziegel und Mörtel."

Denise Truscello / Getty Images für MedMen

Khalil und ich sprachen einen Monat nach Beginn des Stipendiums nach seinem ersten Tag im Wachstumsraum erneut miteinander. Er hatte fünf Stunden damit verbracht, Red Vine Kush, eine Cannabis-Sorte, zu schneiden. („Diese Scheiße war wie Aromatherapie.“) Er war bereit, stärker als je zuvor, in die Branche einzusteigen: „Ich habe Bilder in den Medien gesehen, aber es ist ein ganz anderes Sandwich, sie zu berühren, zu riechen es."

Während einer Videotour durch seine Wohnung Anfang Oktober zündete Khalil einen Joint an und brachte mich nach draußen. Er verließ den Apartmentkomplex, schlenderte an dem kleinen Rasenstück vorbei, auf dem die Bewohner bei gutem Wetter Stühle aufstellten, und wies auf den Halal-Hühnerplatz, eine dominikanische Cafeteria und die Einfamilienhäuser auf der anderen Straßenseite hin. Neben der nachbarschaftlichen Atmosphäre, der strahlenden Sonne und der unbeschwerten Tour ist die Gegend auch für Überdosierungen, Gewalt und Belästigung durch die Polizei bekannt. Die Gemeinde kämpft, und Khalil will raus, weiter.

"Leute, die Millionen von Dollar mit Unkraut verdienen, und ich kann immer noch keinen Job bekommen", wiederholte er. Das sollte sich bald ändern. Er ist "sehr hoffnungsvoll", sagte er, dass er ein "Leuchtfeuer für Menschen werden wird, die vom Drogenkrieg entrechtet wurden".

Am Ende des MassCultivatED-Programms haben Stipendiaten die Möglichkeit, von einem der Unternehmen eingestellt zu werden. Bis Ende des Jahres wird Khalil aller Wahrscheinlichkeit nach legal dieselbe Pflanze verkaufen, die die Kriminalisierung und Stigmatisierung ausgelöst hat, die in den letzten 17 Jahren in seinem Leben herrschte, und dort, während sein Kampf um das Auslöschen weitergeht, immer noch hängen bleibt .

John Washington ist ein Autor, der sich mit Einwanderungs- und Grenzpolitik sowie Strafjustiz befasst. Sein erstes Buch, Die Enteigneten: Eine Geschichte über Asyl an der Grenze zwischen den USA und Mexiko und darüber hinaus, wurde im Mai 2020 von Verso Books veröffentlicht.

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