On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis introduced a read-in motion that seeks to streamline the resentencing process for people with prior marijuana convictions eligible for relief now that recreational cannabis use is legal in California. The motion also aims to reduce racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests that occur post-legalization.
While overall marijuana arrests have plummeted in states like Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon—where recreational marijuana use has been legal for several years—racial disparities remain, according to a report from Drug Policy Alliance. People of color are still more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than their white counterparts, despite the fact that cannabis is used and sold at similar rates across racial groups, according to the report. For example, in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, weed-related arrests among white people dropped 51 percent between 2012 and 2014. During those same years, arrests of Latinx and black people only fell 33 percent and 25 percent, respectively. And in Washington, black people are arrested at double the rate of other racial groups. In the nation’s capital, people who are black are 11 times more likely to be arrested for using marijuana in public than their white counterparts, according to the report.
“Strategies and data tracking are required to prevent the disparate enforcement that has been seen in other jurisdictions post-legalization,” the supervisors’ motion states.
The motion calls for the LA County Office of Cannabis Management, in collaboration with other relevant county departments to identify data tracking tools that will help “measure and prevent disproportionate enforcement of cannabis-related offenses.”
California’s voter-approved Proposition 64 also allows people with prior eligible marijuana convictions to petition the courts to have their crimes reclassified or resentenced (if they are currently incarcerated or on probation for a marijuana offense). “It is estimated that about one million people in California, and potentially hundreds of thousands of County residents, may qualify for relief,” the motion states.
Yet the legal relief process can be daunting, and many LA residents may not even know that they are eligible, according to the supervisors.
In early January, CA Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced AB 1793, a bill that would automatically reclassify or expunge marijuana-related convictions from eligible Californians’ records, rather than require them to submit petitions for the changes to occur.
At the local level, on January 31, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office would automatically review and reclassify nearly 5,000 felony convictions and more than 3,000 misdemeanors dating back to 1975.
“While this relief is already available pursuant to Proposition 64 for anyone with a conviction, it requires that they know it is available and to retain an attorney to file the expungement paperwork,” the DA said.
Gascón reportedly took action after just a handful of people in San Francisco applied for relief.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office have also teamed up to take on marijuana resentencing, and have found approximately 55 people who were either incarcerated or on parole for Prop. 57-eligible convictions, as well as around 4,000 other old cases to review, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Los Angeles County will not be following suit. LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said that LA residents will have to file their own petitions “rather than wait for [the DA’s Office] to go through tens of thousands of case files.” (San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos told the Victorville Daily Press that his office will “absolutely not” automatically reclassify marijuana offenses, either.)
Ridley-Thomas and Solis’s motion aims to lift some of that burden. The motion calls on the Office of Cannabis Management to calculate an estimate of the total number of juveniles and adults who are eligible for relief under Prop. 64, and to develop strategies that “remove barriers to legal relief and provide resentencing
and reclassification in a timely, cost-effective and accessible manner to these individuals, including youth with convictions eligible for expungement.” The motion also calls for these strategies to be paired with reentry and rehabilitation services to help combat the “social and economic impact” of marijuana criminalization.
“In cannabis policy, we in Los Angeles County have prioritized public health and health equity, and we are working to ensure that our communities are not further negatively impacted by commercialization,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We would be remiss and negligent if we do not also take a strong step to reduce the legal, social and economic disparities that have been caused by the so-called ‘War on Drugs.’”
The motion is scheduled for a vote on February 13.
This story has been updated to include information about resentencing in San Diego and San Bernardino Counties.