Weed “convicts” in California are petitioning en masse to have their records cleaned. Under the state’s new legalization policy Prop 64, passed this past November, people convicted of marijuana law violations can have them reduced or erased altogether.
If a client qualifies, felonies can become misdemeanors, and misdemeanors can become infractions or totally expunged. So far more than 2,500 petition requests have been filed through March, but that number doesn’t even reflect data from more than half the state’s counties from the first three months of the year.
Anyone who is currently behind bars, on probation, on parole, or who has completed their sentence can petition for resentencing or redesignation — and so far, judges around the state have granted most of these requests. Redesignation applies to people who have already served their time and want to dismiss or seal their reduced records. Resentencing applies to people who are currently serving time in jail or on probation or parole. This can allow people to go home altogether, or immediately get off probation if their case qualifies.
With an attorney’s help, the process is fairly simple and costs between $500 and $1500. Essentially, it consists of filling out a few forms to submit to the district attorney after it’s determining that a client is eligible. The attorney needs to be sure that had Prop 64 been in effect at the time the client was busted, they would have been convicted of a lesser offense. For example, while possession of marijuana for sale is a felony that could be reduced to a misdemeanor, if the client sold to minors, it’s still a felony under Prop 64. Moreover, if the client has other major, violent felonies on their record, a sex offense, or two other past convictions for the same crime, they might also be ineligible. In general, however, if the client is not deemed a risk to society — which most people who are out and about on probation are not — then they are likely eligible.
While some courts have been unprepared for the flood of petitions they’d receive, others figured ahead of time how many cases they could expect. Prosecutors in San Diego, who researched which convicts were already serving time in prison or on probation and if they’d be eligible to petition, notified the public defender’s office so they could expedite the process, according to Rachel Solov, chief of the collaborative courts division at the district attorney’s office.
San Diego has since been ahead of the state’s other counties, with the most petitions reported just two months after Prop 64 passes. So far, nearly 400 cases have been reduced. “Whether we agree with the law or not, our job is to enforce it,” Solov says. “It’s the right thing to do. If someone’s in custody and they shouldn’t be in custody anymore, we have an obligation to address that.”