California will implement legalized recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, and there is a provision within the new state law that will essentially erase criminal convictions of marijuana possession. Anyone convicted for possessing less than one ounce of cannabis can have their record reduced or erased in the state.
The Washington Post reported that the new law is in line with a movement brewing across the country to eliminate and decrease penalties emanating from the war on drugs as penitence. Minorities have been disproportionately targeted and arrested for marijuana at frightening rates for years, and lawmakers in legal states are trying to make amends.
According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union in 2013, African-Americans are at least 4 times more likely to be arrested for possession than Caucasians. For example, at least 83 percent of all marijuana arrests in Oakland were of African-Americans in 2007, and in 2015, 77 percent of individuals arrested for pot in the city were black.
Some people arrested with a quarter of an ounce of weed received 5 years in jail. Voluntary manslaughter carries a minimum of 3 years. The fact that a black man can go to jail for 5 years for a few doobies while a white guy can get in a bar fight, kill someone, and get less time is a travesty.
The rate at which black men are disproportionately incarcerated is an epidemic which places life-long discrimination (legally) on people who, under today’s marijuana laws, have committed no crime. Many cannot find a job because of a marijuana conviction or can only find minimum-wage jobs without benefits.
While Caucasians are entering the cannabis industry and becoming successful entrepreneurs selling weed strains, many minorities who did the same have had their entire lives destroyed.
Many states are trying to atone for this grossly unfair treatment and detrimental penalties resulting from marijuana convictions. Nine states so far have laws that either decrease or expunge altogether records resulting from a marijuana conviction, with Maryland, Oregon, and Vermont joining California in allowing marijuana convictions to be expunged from criminal records.
Officials also want to improve chances for those with felony convictions to be able to secure employment or enter the now-legal cannabis industry (should they choose to do so), and having a felony conviction bars many from meaningful employment and from participating in starting a cannabis business.
So, How Do I Get Pot off My Record?
Anyone seeking to have their marijuana conviction reduced or overturned only needs to contact the office that handled their prosecution so that the case can go before a judge. All charges will be classified under the new law, with many cases being thrown out if they include less than an ounce of weed.
In Los Angeles, you can find legal assistance to help with your case at free expungement clinics. Just bring in your RAP sheet and a legal professional will help get you started on clearing your record.
Many district attorney’s offices have taken the liberty of notifying people that they are eligible to have all marijuana criminal offenses expunged from their records and that many people currently incarcerated may be able to leave prison.
Prosecutors in San Diego took steps to find anyone convicted in the past three years that may qualify for reduced penalties and got judges to oversee their petitions last year. At least 600 reductions have been filed at the DA’s office so far.
At least 4,500 people in California have had petitions filed to have their sentences reduced or erased, and 365 petitions were filed to have juvenile marijuana convictions expunged. Some argue that the convictions should automatically be reduced or thrown out and that many people with convictions can’t go to court due to transportation or employment issues, undermining the point of the law.
Advocates worry that only people with the means to hire a lawyer can benefit from the law while people without the time or money who are dealing with everyday struggles won’t be helped.
Advocates say that not enough is being done to notify people of their rights, another reason many feel that the reductions and expunged records should be automatic. Most people who have filed became aware of the law through social media or through the grapevine, not from prosecuting offices.
Many who have already completed their sentences have no idea that they can have their old records expunged, which is unethical because they would have never been convicted under the current law, and having their record erased may create better opportunities for their future and livelihood.
The Drug Policy Alliance estimates that one million people in the state could be eligible to have their case reviewed.