A Million People Convicted of Marijuana-Related Crimes in California Could Soon See Their Records Wiped Clean

Californians who enjoy cannabis have a lot to celebrate this new year. Recreational sales become legal January 1st, and the $5 billion industry and could provide the state with $1 billion in revenu, so both the business sector and state government stand to profit handsomely. But it could be an especially important day for the hundreds of thousands of individuals in California with a drug crime on their record, who may be getting a second chance at a clean slate.


Beginning in 2018, the state will offer anyone convicted of a marijuana crime the opportunity to have the charge dropped or reduced through Prop 64. For decades, even minor charges like marijuana possession have held back many from employment. The state sees the opportunity to have their records expunged as a fresh start, and it could affect up to a million people, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. The organization estimates that there have been 500,000 arrests for marijuana offenses in California over the past 10 years.

The policy could especially benefit Californians of color who have been targeted for drug arrests. The Drug Policy Alliance writes that "in 2015, black people were more than twice as likely as white people to be arrested for a marijuana misdemeanor and nearly five times more likely than white people to be arrested for a marijuana felony." As for the Hispanic population, "Latino people are arrested for marijuana offenses 35 percent more often than white people in California."

The expungement rule is a common sense measure that shows the state is in step with the times. Possessing an ounce or less of marijuana is legal now in California, so it’s only fitting that those who have a criminal record for similar amounts have this charge erased. With California as the latest state to enact such a rule, there are now nine states that offer expungement to those convicted of marijuana crimes. It’s part of a growing awareness of the hypocrisy of these convictions, at a time when legalization is growing in popularity nationwide. In the past five years, sixteen states have modified their marijuana laws to reduce penalties for possession.

Advocates for criminal justice reform have been especially vocal about seing California adopt this new rule. The Post describes a few such champions:

Last year, prosecutors in San Diego searched for people convicted of marijuana offenses in the prior three years who would be eligible for reductions. When the measure passed, prosecutors got their petitions before a judge as soon as possible.

“We absolutely didn’t want people to be in custody who shouldn’t be in custody,” said Rachel Solov, chief of the collaborative courts division in the San Diego district attorney’s office. She said that as of mid-December, the office has handled nearly 600 reductions.

Of course, those best poised to benefit from Prop 64 are those with the time, money, and access to take their cases back to court. “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,” one defense attorney told the Post. Still, progress is progress.

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