A conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana can lead to a lifetime of harsh consequences (also called collateral sanctions) and result in denial of student financial aid, housing, employment, and professional licenses. Discriminatory enforcement means these punitive collateral consequences disproportionately affect people of color.

Marijuana legalization is a key component of broader criminal justice reform, and perhaps the most profound change being driven by the cannabis movement is in the area of criminal justice. 

As the cannabis reform movement has gained momentum, voters have become increasingly troubled by the long lasting, residual harm the war on cannabis has placed on lives through criminal histories. For most voters, it no longer makes sense that cannabis is treated as a legal product accessible by adults, yet individuals are still denied housing, an education, or employment because of a prior conviction history. Even more troubling is that discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionately sent individuals from black and brown communities to jail, resulting in these communities being hardest hit by collateral sanctions.

This injustice has opened the door to expungement of criminal records. Most states considering legalization are now also including plans for expungement in their proposed legislation, and states that adopted legalization early on are adding expungement provisions to their existing laws. Illinois’ MPP-drafted legalization law will expunge close to 740,000 records and has been heralded as a breakthrough in criminal justice reform.

Learn more about the intersections among cannabis and criminal justice issues, including collateral sanctions, expungement, racial justice, enforcement and policing, and DUI/DWI laws.

Collateral Sanctions and Expungement

Racial Justice

Enforcement and Policing