With California allowing legal recreational marijuana sales starting Jan. 1, hundreds of thousands of drug conviction records could be wiped away, thanks to a lesser-known provision in the new state marijuana law. Already, 4,500 people have asked courts to have pot sentences reduced or thrown out.
With California allowing legal recreational marijuana sales starting Jan. 1, hundreds of thousands of drug conviction records could be wiped away, thanks to a lesser-known provision in the new state marijuana law, the Washington Post reports. California is offering a second chance to people convicted of almost any marijuana crime, with the opportunity to have their criminal records cleared or the charges sharply reduced. State officials hope to reverse decades of marijuana convictions that can make it difficult for people to get jobs and disproportionately affect low-income minorities. “We worked to help create a legalized and regulated process for legal marijuana, but we also wanted to make sure we could help …repair the damages of marijuana prohibition,” said Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance. The alliance said there have been 500,000 arrests for marijuana offenses in California in the past 10 years. It estimates that up to a million people have reviewable convictions on their records.
At least 4,500 people filed petitions to have their sentences reduced, redesignated or thrown out as of September. The change is part of a nationwide movement to reduce marijuana charges and atone 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. The re-designation of marijuana crimes in California went into effect immediately after voters approved the measure legalizing pot. Those who want their marijuana convictions lessened must present their cases in court. Prosecutors can decide not to support a reduction should someone have a major felony, such as murder, on their record.