Recreational marijuana became legal in California Jan. 1. But many in the state still have criminal records or are in jail because of the substance.
CALIFORNIA — After recreational marijuana officially became legal in California on Jan. 1, a Care2 petition is calling on the state to do more to ensure people convicted of marijuana offenses can have their records expunged. A Care2 petition asking the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and Attorney General Xavier Becerra to alert all prisoners and convicts that they can have their marijuana convictions reviewed has gathered over 27,000 signatures.
A provision in the new law offers those convicted of marijuana-related “crimes” the chance to have their records cleared or the charges sharply reduced. Yet thousands of people are still sitting in prison for marijuana-related crimes, and many people with crimes on their record don’t know that they can have their records expunged.
Defense lawyers told The Washington Post that the state has put little effort into letting people know they can have their cases reviewed. Most hear through word of mouth or social media.
Care2 petition author Julie Mastrine, a San Francisco resident, points out marijuana convictions can make it difficult for people to get hired, and the hardship disproportionately affects low-income people of color, who are more likely to be arrested for drug-related crimes.
“We need the CDCR and Attorney General to dedicate resources to alerting prisoners and convicts that they can have their marijuana convictions reviewed,” Mastrine said. “Prohibition may be over for most Californians, but it is still affecting the lives of those convicted of marijuana-related crimes, preventing them from getting jobs and in some cases, keeping them imprisoned.”
According to Drug Policy Alliance, there were 500,000 arrests for marijuana offenses in California in the past 10 years, and up to a million people may have convictions on their records that can be reviewed or expunged.
“The state created this mess,” Mastrine said, “now it’s time to fix it.”