By Aaron Kesel
California is on the verge of legalizing recreational marijuana sales starting January 1st; and within that law there is a provision that could clear the records of those convicted of marijuana-related crimes or reduced penalties to offer them a second chance, CTPost reported.
This legal precedent covers everything from serious felonies to small infractions, as the state lawmakers hope to reverse decades of marijuana convictions.
“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,” said Eunisses Hernandez, a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance.
The alliance stated there have been 500,000 arrests for marijuana offenses in California in the past 10 years. The group estimates that up to a million people have reviewable convictions on their records that may be able to be expunged.
“People have learned from what worked in California,” says Jolene Forman, a staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance.
At least nine states have passed similar laws that allow expunging or reducing marijuana criminal convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maryland, Oregon, and Vermont also now allow convictions for marijuana offenses that are not classified as “crimes” under the current law to be wiped off a criminal record completely.
The bill in California known as Proposition 64 was approved last November, creating this opportunity for people with certain marijuana-related convictions. Anyone busted with a small amount of marijuana considered to be by state standards under an ounce can wipe their slates completely clean.
The new laws present “the largest record-change opportunity in US history,” according to Lenore Anderson, the head of the nonprofit Californians for Safety and Justice.
So far, the propositions have freed thousands of nonviolent incarcerated criminal offenders in the sunny state, as California seeks to comply with a 2011 Supreme Court order to reduce its overall prison population.
As a result of the initiative, the state has saved over $100 million in prison costs that since June, has been reallocated to help those with a serious drug addiction funding drug treatment and mental health programs, as well as initiatives that offer housing and job opportunities to former offenders, helping them stay out of prison.
It is estimated that 2 million people are eligible for the chance to wipe their records completely clean. To have the process done it costs the offender a $50 fee but, after that, the past can remain in the past and won’t come up during criminal screening for employment.
This comes as an opponent of marijuana, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is in charge of the federal laws regarding marijuana. Sessions in late October even has gone as far as saying he wants to imprison and prosecute marijuana growers, sellers, and users in states where marijuana is legalized.
For the first time in history, we are seeing local state government contradicting federal marijuana laws in a criminal justice reform. It is too soon to tell if California will set a legal precedent with this move, but it is certainly possible since Congress denied Sessions money to fight his war on drugs against marijuana users allocating $0 to his crusade.
Overall, Congress itself has increased support for the legalization of the drug, which in the past was often fraught with scrutiny; now there seems to be bipartisan support towards legalization efforts.
If this becomes a nationwide action we may soon be able to clean up the prison system of nonviolent offenders who simply smoked a measly joint, and replace them with violent offenders such as child molesters, rapists and murderers. In other words, real criminal justice reform could be spurred by this legislation, allowing marijuana users a second chance for choosing to smoke a plant, and even some who were convicted of selling cannabis in small amounts.
Image credit: TFTP