Nevada Pardons Over 15K People with Cannabis Convictions

Photography by Emiliano Bar

In an effort to right the wrongs of the past, the state of Nevada automatically pardoned over 15,000 people who have been convicted for low-level, non-violent cannabis possession under a resolution from the governor that was unanimously approved by the state’s Board of Pardons Commissioners earlier this month.

The pardon, introduced by Governor Steve Sisolak (D) extends unconditional clemency to individuals with possession convictions of up to one ounce from January 1986 to January 2017.

“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,” the governor said in a press release. “Since the passage of [adult-use legalization] in 2016 and the decriminalization of possession for small amounts of marijuana, many Nevadans have had these minor offenses 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.”

Pardons don’t void convictions, they can restore rights such as the ability to vote, own a firearm or serve on a jury. Those who are eligible for the pardon also have the opportunity to submit a form for expedited processing of documentation reflecting their status change.

People who want to get formal documentation that they have been pardoned must obtain a copy of their judgment of conviction from a court, or a copy of their criminal history — a request they must mail in along with a $27 check or money order. Requestors are told to allow 45 days for processing. Then, that information and an application for the pardon must be mailed to the pardons board, which includes the governor, attorney general and members of the Nevada Supreme Court. The secretary of the board processes the information and if approved, the petition will be signed by the pardons board.

“Today we took another step toward justice by pardoning thousands of Nevadans for actions that Nevadans decided should no longer be illegal,” state Attorney General Aaron Ford (D) said. “I’m proud to work alongside Governor Sisolak to make it easier for these Nevadans to get jobs, housing, and financial aid for college. Together, we’re making criminal justice reform a priority across Nevada.”

The resolution states, “All persons previously convicted in the State of Nevada for violations of statutes, ordinances, or codes prohibiting the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana not for purpose of sale, including without limitation NRS 453.336(4) and its subsections, are hereby unconditionally pardoned. This provision shall not be construed to extend to concomitant criminal convictions related to the underlying marijuana conviction.”

“The Secretary of the Nevada State Board of Pardons Commissioners shall prescribe instructions for persons seeking Unconditional Pardon documents for crimes pursuant to this Resolution, identified by the Nevada Offence Codes (NOC) below,” it continues. “The Secretary is hereby delegated authority to present Unconditional Pardons to the Commissioners for signature without further action by the Board.”

A Frequently Asked Questions document about the new board action notes that not everyone with a past marijuana possession conviction is covered by it.

“Prior to 2001, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in Nevada was a felony crime. Unfortunately, people convicted of this crime were lumped together people convicted of possession of other drugs. There is no way to separate these groups out,” it says. “Additionally, sometimes people charged with possession of one ounce or less of marijuana pled to other crimes as part of the plea bargain process. People falling into these two categories are not covered by this resolution here. However, the Pardons Board can still provide relief to individuals seeking to have those convictions pardoned.”

Other resources are available to help people clear their record of the decriminalized offense. Lawyer Dayvid Figler said Legal Aid of Southern Nevada has a packet with forms for record sealing that could help people through the process without hiring a lawyer, and that includes forms so people could apply to have filing fees waived.

Sisolak urged the legal community that had celebrated the broad pardon to “spring into action” to help people complete the steps needed to realize the full benefits of the pardon.