The passage of Proposition 64 and the legalization of recreational cannabis figures to change the legal status for a lot of people – maybe tens of thousands – convicted of crimes related to pot.
But who’s eligible for a fresh start? And how can those people make it happen?
Those are questions that David Pullman hopes to answer.
Pullman, a criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area city of San Rafael, believes the first step will have to start with the people themselves.
“The courts will provide no help whatsoever,” Pullman said. “It is so mystifying that a lot of people will just hire a lawyer because they’re afraid.”
Essentially, the pool of people who might have their legal status changed because of Prop. 64 falls into two categories.
First, there are thousands of people behind bars for marijuana-related crimes. Some may be eligible to have their sentences shortened or even go free.
Second, there are a million people or so saddled with misdemeanor or felony records tied to cannabis. They also can petition to have their records changed or cleared. And all is possible because of the language in Prop. 64.
Pullman estimates that 99 percent of people impacted by the new law don’t need an attorney and can file their own legal petition to have their charges reduced. So he and a friend made a website, Prop64ClearYourRecord.com, that presents a series of questions that a person can use to create customized paperwork that’ll stand up in court.
Pullman, who makes his living representing people accused of drug crimes, realizes he’s cutting off some potential income.
“I’ve never been very good at capitalism,” he said, laughing. I really want people to be helped and I don’t want them to say, ‘Oh, this is too expensive.’”
He traces that mindset to his own background.
When he was 19, Pullman left New York to follow the Grateful Dead as they toured the country. The adventure ended when the self-proclaimed “skinny hippy teen” was busted for selling LSD to an undercover police officer.
After spending a couple years in state prison, Pullman set out for California, determined to fight back against the War on Drugs.
“I just always have felt that this drug war was a human rights disaster,” he said.
Pullman supported Prop. 64, which reduced or eliminated every marijuana criminal penalty on the books other than selling to minors and using volatile materials to make extracts.
Most people’s charges must be updated to reflect the new laws, Pullman said.
There are a few situations where judges will have discretion to decide whether to reduce past charges for people with serious violent crimes or multiple priors for the same marijuana charges on their records. Pullman’s website has a checklist that will let people know if they’re safe to petition for the changes on their own or if they should still seek legal counsel because special might circumstances apply.
A few dozen people have downloaded petitions already.
Pullman said he hasn’t heard about the outcome of any of the cases yet. Since the courts didn’t have a procedure in place to process the Prop. 64 petitions, he said these early requests could take a bit of time.
For people whose cases were still pending on Nov. 8, he said it should be as simple as having their attorney negotiate with the prosecutor to amend the complaint.
Pullman has been working for three years on behalf of a client who was facing two felony charges after she was pulled over while driving a van full of marijuana for a legal medical marijuana collective. Now those felonies are set to become misdemeanors, and she went from facing more than four years in prison to a few months in jail that will likely become probation.
Beyond possibly shortening jail time, Pullman said reducing charges can have a tremendous impact on the lives of people fingered for cannabis-related crimes.
“Clearing up a record of conviction, especially for felonies, can improve your ability to get employment and various occupational licenses,” he said. “You can be immediately released from incarceration, electronic monitoring, probation, parole, post release community supervision or mandatory supervision. If you have no other felony convictions, your rights to be on a jury or buy and possess a firearm will be restored. If you get in trouble with the law in the future, they won’t be able to use these past convictions against you.”
Pullman hopes more people will take advantage of the free petitions available on his website. And if they feel like kicking down a donation while they’re on the page, he’ll welcome that, too.