Legal marijuana means criminal records could be wiped clean

Legal marijuana in California means that people with previous pot convictions could have their records cleared.

In 2018, California became the latest state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. While the legalization of recreational marijuana has received much media attention, a provision in the new law has gone largely unnoticed, despite the fact that it could have a life-changing impact on up to a million Californians. As the Washington Post reports, that provision allows those who were convicted of a marijuana-related offense that is now either no longer a crime or is a reduced offense to apply to have their convictions either reduced or cleared entirely.

Charges that have been reclassified

Many marijuana-related felonies have either been reclassified as misdemeanors or been dropped as offenses entirely. That means that many people are carrying around convictions for offenses that are no longer illegal under state law. When California voters legalized recreational marijuana with the passage of Proposition 64, they also passed a little-known provision that allows people with marijuana convictions that have since been reclassified to apply for their sentences to either be reduced or their records cleared entirely.

As ABC 10 News reports, currently there are four specific charges that have been reclassified: Possession of Marijuana, "Growing"/Cultivation of Marijuana, Possession with Intent to Sell Marijuana, and Sales of Transport of Marijuana. Anybody who has a conviction for these offenses can apply to have the charges reduced. Furthermore, the list of eligible charges could eventually be expanded once the courts decide how to interpret the new marijuana laws.

Up to a million Californians affected

The reduced charges provision of Prop. 64 could have a wide-reaching impact. The Drug Policy Alliance, for example, estimates that up to a million people throughout the state may have a conviction on their records that are now eligible for reduction or elimination. Yet, despite that potential scope, between November 2016 (when Prop. 64 was approved) and September 2017, just 5,000 people in California had actually applied for a reduction to their marijuana-related convictions.

The problem is largely one of publicity. Much of the focus on the new law has been on the fact that recreational marijuana is now legal in California for adults, but there has been little attention given to the effect the law will have on those with previous marijuana convictions. Getting a felony conviction reduced or eliminated entirely could be life changing for those affected since a felony conviction can severely limit job and housing opportunities and make it difficult to go to college or get a loan from a bank.

Clearing a criminal past

For those who may be eligible to have a previous marijuana conviction reduced or eliminated, it is important to talk to a criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney can help clients apply to have their criminal records changed so that they no longer have to carry the burden of a conviction for an offense that may no longer exist.