SACRAMENTO, California — When Californians voted to legalize marijuana, they also helped thousands of their neighbors, mostly Latinos and African Americans, seek justice for harsh debts paid under stringent drug laws of the past.
The passage of Prop 64 also triggered the effects of a 2014 ballot initiative which reclassified and reduced some non-serious offenses to misdemeanors. With employment complicated by existing criminal records and a White House seeking to drive out undocumented immigrants with convictions, the change is dramatically impacting lives.
Criminal justice reporting nonprofit, The Marshall Project, looked at the case of a 65-year-old professional musician who decades ago became a felon for trying to sell a few grams of marijuana.
Eddy, as he was identified, was at high risk of deportation under the new Trump-era immigration policies. Now volunteer lawyers are helping him petition the state to remove the felony from his record.
Under the provisions of Prop 47, people may apply to have convictions reduced or dismissed completely.
To date, more than 2,600 people have petitioned the state to revaluate their pot-related convictions, with 1,500 asking for past felonies to be reclassified as misdemeanors, according to court records.
People of color have been hurt the most by aggressive drug laws.
“Communities of color have been hit especially hard by the decades-long war on drugs,” according to The Marshall Project, “studies show a stark racial imbalance in drug enforcement.” A 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report concluded that African Americans were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, although use of the drug was roughly equal among the races.
Across California, attorneys and drug reform advocates say implementation of Prop. 64 hasn’t been perfect; more resources are needed to process petitions and conduct outreach to people who may be eligible to clear their records and just don’t know it. But overall, they believe the law is an effective tool to undo the collateral damage of felony pot convictions, and they hope it will serve as a model for the rest of the country.”
In the last three years, at least nine states have passed laws that helps dismiss marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
For more information, check out the full report.