If the arc of history bends towards freedom, we should probably decide what to about all those people who were convicted in the past for things that are legal now.
Legalization is an admission that the old law was wrong.
It was always wrong for pot to be illegal.
Growing, selling and smoking pot have always been activities that harmed no one except the actor; and pot smoking is way less harmful to the smoker than lots of everyday things that have never been illegal are to the folks who do them.
So repealing the laws punishing those activities is an admission by the government that those laws were wrong.
So what do we do about the folks convicted under those laws?
Immediately expunging the criminal records of all convictions under those laws is an obvious first start: the actions that led to those convictions are not illegal, and the laws that led to those convictions were wrong.
(That would lead to releasing a lot of prisoners who are no longer convicts. Obviously. The State can’t be allowed to hold anyone prisoner without a conviction.)
Since the convictions were (presumably) legitimate under what was current law at the time, it may be inappropriate to compensate the newly-non-criminal folks as they would have to have been for “wrongful conviction”.
You could definitely make a case that some compensation or apology is due. These folks lost a lot of their lives to bad laws; we probably owe them something for that.
But what about legalizations that open up whole new industries?
Legalizing pot has created an entire new industry of licensed growers and vendors (and online delivery companies, even).
But since the states who’ve legalized pot haven’t planned ahead for this, most of the former-convicts who were affected by the prohibition weren’t able to get themselves licensed to take advantage of it.
So it turns out that now these new industries are generally dominated by the same rich white guys who dominate every other industry, whereas the folks who were harmed by the prohibition tend to have been poor black guys.
Not really surprising, but clearly not fair either.
It’s not too late.
The State should be required to reserve a significant percentage of these business licenses for folks who were convicted and punished under the old, wrong, laws.
After all, those folks are the pioneering entrepreneurs of this new and thriving industry.