By Martin Macias, Courthouse News Service
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to develop guidelines to fast-track removal or reduction of cannabis-related convictions for county residents, many of whom face barriers to employment, housing and public benefits due to their records.
The motion, first introduced by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas in February, directs the Office of Cannabis Management to develop countywide recommendations on cannabis-related decriminalization, including resentencing and reclassification rules for future sentencing legislation.
According to the motion, low-income communities and people of color have been “disproportionately criminalized by the War on Drugs.”
In a prepared statement, Supervisor Solis said cannabis-related convictions can result in detention and deportation for immigrants, even if they’ve been in the U.S. for decades.
“The War on Drugs primarily hinders communities of color,” Solis said. “Our goal at the County is to give people second chances and remove barriers to employment and a productive and happy life.”
On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed an Obama-era marijuana policy and authorized federal prosecutors to enforce cannabis laws in states like California that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal use.
Proposition 64, the 2016 voter-backed ballot measure that legalized marijuana in the state, allows those convicted of marijuana offenses to petition to overturn their convictions or reduce their sentences for crimes that are no longer illegal.
Hundreds of thousands of LA County residents may qualify for relief under Prop 64, Solis’ statement said.
According to an analysis issued by the California State Assembly Public Safety Committee, less than 5,000 people statewide had petitioned the courts to have their records modified as of September 2017, even though about 2.8 million Californians were arrested for cannabis-related offenses over the last century.
Supervisors Solis and Ridley-Thomas’ motion also officially backs Assembly Bill 1793, which proposes fast-track removal of certain cannabis-related convictions without requiring a petition.
“The measure removes the onus on the person who may not be aware of the opportunity to change their record or cannot afford to legally pursue the process,” the motion said.
In January, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced a new city policy that will eliminate thousands of marijuana convictions going back decades and expand job and housing opportunities to those arrested for cannabis-related offenses.
Instead of waiting for city residents to petition to get their records cleared, Gascon said his office would proactively expunge 3,038 misdemeanor convictions and review nearly 5,000 felony convictions, many of which may be downgraded to misdemeanors with reduced sentences.
Seattle has considered a similar measure.
Cannabis remains banned by federal law as a Schedule I substance, meaning the Drug Enforcement Agency considers it highly addictive and of no medicinal value.
To date, 28 states have approved medical marijuana programs and eight have legalized the substance for recreational use.