California to Vote On Wiping Old Weed Arrests

“Currently, the courts are clogged with cases of non-violent drug offenses."

Oct 24 2016, 7:59pm

Image: Wikimedia

California's ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana could be a beacon of hope for anyone with a criminal record for using or possessing weed.

Proposition 64 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. But it would also allow judges to resentence individuals convicted of weed-related crimes, and for the destruction of records for prior marijuana convictions. That's important because about 15,000 to 20,000 people in California are arrested every year for misdemeanor and felony marijuana crimes, according to an August report by the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy non-profit.

The ballot measure would legalize using, possessing and growing marijuana, with restrictions. Adults could possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and up to eight grams of concentrated marijuana, such as hash. Private individuals could grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes, and greater quantities would be subject to state licensing and regulation.

If passed, the measure could provide a lighter or expunged record for people previously arrested for misdemeanors for possessing small amounts of marijuana, growing marijuana or for using weed without a medical marijuana card.

U.S. cannabis arrests by year. Image: FBI

California has already reduced the severity of the requirements of weed-related crimes, making low-level possession of about one ounce or less an infraction in 2011, similar to a parking ticket, rather than an offense requiring an arrest, according to pro-marijuana group NORML. Minor possession was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor in 1976, and medical marijuana was legalized in 1996.

"The penalty for cultivating more than six cannabis plants will be a misdemeanor under Prop 64, but is currently a straight felony," said Mike Donaldson, a California defense lawyer, in a statement on his website. "As such, individuals with a prior felony marijuana cultivation conviction will be able to petition a court for resentencing and have their conviction reduced to a misdemeanor."

It could alleviate pressure on the state's courts, which spend "tens of millions" on these arrests and court costs, according to a pro-amendment ballot summary written by a former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and other proponents.

"Currently, the courts are clogged with cases of non-violent drug offenses," according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office ballot summary. "By legalizing marijuana, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act will alleviate pressure on the courts, but continue to allow prosecutors to charge the most serious marijuana-related offenses as felonies, while reducing the penalties for minor marijuana-related offenses as set forth in the act."

Read more: Marijuana Arrests Are At a 20-Year Low

Meanwhile, opponents of the ballot measure argue prior reforms, such as the 2011 legislation, already makes criminal punishment for marijuana-related crimes mild. "Not one single person remains in California's prisons solely for simple marijuana possession," U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other opponents write in the ballot summary.

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