According to The Washington Post, officials in California want to “reverse decades of marijuana convictions that can make it difficult for people to gain meaningful employment and disproportionately affect low-income minorities.”
Hundreds of thousands of Californians could be gifted the second chance of meaningful employment next month when the state legalizes the sale of recreational marijuana. Thanks to a lesser-known provision in the new legislation, up to one million people convicted of possession or even dealing will be able to apply to have their charges reduced or even cleared.
So far at least 4,500 people have filed petitions to have their sentences thrown and state officials are hoping that the effects of decades of strict laws which have adversely affected low-income minorities could be overturned.
In essence, the state is providing another opportunity to those who’ve been charged with almost any crime associated with weed. From infractions to misdemeanors, all the way to felonies, former convicted criminals could have their records wiped or have their charges reduced, significantly.
‘We worked to help create a legalized and regulated process for legal marijuana, but we also wanted to make sure we could help – some way, somehow – repair the damages of marijuana prohibition,’ Eunisses Hernandez, a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance
It is estimated that close to a million people have review-able convictions that could be reduced or overturned. According to the California Judicial Council, at least 4,500 people have already filed petitions to have their sentences reduced or thrown out altogether.
613 applicants came from Riverside County, who had the highest number and another 365 applicants worked to have their juvenile convictions tossed.
Cases must be presented to court in order to have the charges lessened. Prosecutors can deny support of a reduction if someone has an additional felony on their record. Old convictions would be reclassified to follow the guidelines of the new law, so if a person had an amount that would now be deemed as legal, their whole conviction could be tossed out.
Across the state, district attorneys notified those behind bars of the new law and informed them that they could be ultimately released from jail. Prosecutors in San Diego searched for people with marijuana charges in the last three years and presented a list of petitions to judges in the area.
They’ve handled nearly 600 reduction cases as of mid-December. Many are unaware of the new provision to the law and don’t know they can have their record changed to reflect a reduction.
‘One of the projects we’re working on this year is to notify people that this is an option,’ said Bruce Margolin, a Los Angeles defense lawyer.’It’s a viable thing to do, obviously, because people are suffering with these felony convictions in so many aspects of their life.’
The sentiment was shared by Omar Figueroa, a defense lawyer in Sebastopol, California, who believed that the requirement to go to court hindered the poor.
‘That’s one of the criticisms, that a lot of people don’t have the time or energy or the access to public transportation to get to the courthouse,’ Figueroa said. ‘What I see is the people who have more means are the ones who are taking advantage of this, and the people who have more basic struggles in their everyday life, the last thing they’re thinking about is cleaning up their criminal history for their old marijuana convictions.’
The change is part of a nationwide movement to reduce marijuana charges and make up for harsh penalties during the war on drugs. At least nine states have passed laws expunging or reducing marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maryland, Oregon, and Vermont also now allow convictions for marijuana offenses that are not crimes under current law to be wiped off a criminal record.