[Publication Date: June 13, 2021]
[Question:] Should people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes be pardoned?
[Author:] Joe Roybal serves as Bureau Chief at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. His views do not represent the Sheriff’s Office. Chief Roybal is a candidate for El Paso County Sheriff in 2022.
It is important to look at all angles when it comes to decisions made by leaders, especially elected officials, that impact the community. Recently, Governor Polis made a decision to extend pardons to those who have been convicted of “low level” marijuana crimes. This decision comes on the heels of a bill he signed allowing people to legally possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis.
While on the surface it would seem appropriate to allow for such a pardon, I disagree. “Appropriate” is defined as suitable or proper based on the circumstances — that is, the circumstances at the time of the action, not after the fact.
This question should be addressed from the standpoint of principle. A principle of the judicial system is to ensure consequences based on enforcement of the laws after due process. To be specific, it is a principle of the judicial system for a party to face the penalties when a law is broken. At the time the law was violated, the involved party made a conscious decision to violate the law knowing there would be consequences for their actions.
Even with a subsequent change in the law, there is no reason to believe our citizens expect someone not to be held accountable for their decisions based on the laws in place at the time.
Additionally, the punishment or consequences for a “low level” offense are not significant. If the law allows for the expungement of a record (after the conviction and appropriate action is taken) this is sufficient to address the concerns of those who believe the pardons should be allowed, in order to prevent the conviction from permanently affecting one’s life.
It is also important to note that part of the reasoning for the pardons is a conviction’s impact on getting loans or mortgages. However, I am not aware of a criminal background check being conducted before the purchase of a home or a personal loan. This seems to be a manufactured reason to pardon someone who willfully broke an existing law, and who had no reason to believe the same action later would be legal.
It would be appropriate for our leadership to focus on the current difficulties facing our state and our communities. Time spent on reviewing “low level” cases for pardon is better spent on discussing solutions to concerns facing our community such as mental health care and aid for our veterans. It would seem prudent for our governor to focus on the present and allow the
consequences of the past to be faced by those who willingly ignored the laws in place at the time. They were granted the judicial process our country is founded on and should be held to the standard which existed when they made their decision to violate the law.