Hoping to follow cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles County leaders on Tuesday unanimously approved an effort to develop a plan to decriminalize marijuana-related sentences that occurred before Proposition 64.
The motion, authored by supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, asks the county’s Office of Cannabis Management, as well as other departments and community activists, to find ways to streamline the process of resentencing procedures. The supervisors noted that there may be thousands of Los Angeles County residents with prior, minor marijuana convictions who may be held back from employment or housing because of their records.
“This would remove barriers to employment, housing, financial assistance, and deepening social and economic disparities,” Ridley-Thomas said. “For many, this is the second chance that was due to them, and has been a long time coming.”
San Francisco officials moved to retroactively expunge or reduce marijuana-related misdemeanors and felonies dating back to 1975, the district attorney’s office there announced last week.
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Both Ridley-Thomas and Solis said the nation’s decades-long war on drugs have led to racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests and convictions.
“Over the last 40 years, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has disproportionally affected communities of color,” Solis said. “By supporting Prop. 64, the voters have decided that this ‘war’ needs to end. Today’s motion will begin a comprehensive review of options available to the County to mitigate over-criminalization, reduce imprisonment, curb court case loads, and put people back to work instead of behind bars.”
Members of groups that help people released from jails and prisons re-enter the community spoke in favor of the supervisors’ efforts, including those from Homeboy Industries, the Youth Justice Coalition, and A New Way of Life Reentry Project.
Known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, Prop. 64 was passed by voters in 2016. Similar to Prop. 47, which includes provisions that reduce past felonies to misdemeanors, Prop. 64 allows for eligible prior convictions to be reduced or dismissed. But many who carry these past convictions may be unaware that they may be eligible for legal relief.
A report by the pro-legalization group Drug Policy Alliance found that between 2006 and 2015, there were nearly 500,000 marijuana arrests in California.
“The act of getting someone’s conviction reclassified or dismissed off their record removes at least 4,800 barriers that prevent them from obtaining housing, employment and supportive services,” Eunisses Hernandez, policy coordinator with the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance said in a statement. “Providing post-conviction relief services opens the door for new opportunities that allow people to fully integrate back into their communities after being impacted by the criminal justice system.”
A report on the county’s plan is expected in 180 days. Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors also is expected to vote in the next few weeks on a proposed set of regulations for cannabis retail shops, cultivation, and growth for the region’s unincorporated areas.
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