The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion Tuesday calling on the Office of Cannabis Management and various Los Angeles County departments and community stakeholders to develop a countywide plan to facilitate the resentencing of minor cannabis convictions.
Under Proposition 64, passed by voters in November 2016, certain convictions qualify for reduction or dismissal. However, many people remain unaware that they may be eligible for legal relief or are deterred by the cumbersome process.
“The war on drugs led to decades-long racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests and convictions,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who introduced the motion.
“We have a responsibility now to seek widespread reclassification and resentencing for those with minor cannabis convictions on their records, including the destruction of court records for youth,” Ridley-Thomas said. “This would remove barriers to employment, housing, financial assistance, and deepening social and economic disparities. For many, this is the second chance that was due to them, and has been a long time coming.”
The motion, co-authored by Supervisor Hilda Solis, also seeks to prevent the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis-related offenses seen in other jurisdictions post-legalization.
In Alaska, for example, while overall cannabis-related arrests fell after legalization, African Americans were still arrested for these offenses approximately 10 times more often than Caucasians were. In Washington, D.C. this racial disparity was closer to 4:1, and in Colorado, 3:1.
“It was a very lengthy motion that tries to do a lot,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley.
“The good news is it’s a report-back, meaning the county agencies will report to the Board on how best to move forward,” Bell said. “There are issues about economic subsidies that Supervisor Barger is very wary of and is looking forward to (getting) more information on.”
Bell said Barger has issues with legalized cannabis in general.
“This has created a real headache for the county,” he said. “(The Office of Cannabis Management) is a huge bureaucracy that had to be created in order to regulate this. I’m not sure the voters understood that.”
However, Bell said Barger does support overturning some cannabis-related convictions, sentence reductions and criminal record clean-up as Proposition 64 calls for, but not on a wholesale basis.
“Where people are trying to improve their lives and redeem themselves, of course, there should be efforts made to help them get jobs and restore their place in society, but it has to be very selective,” he said.
Eunisses Hernandez, policy coordinator with the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, supported the motion.
“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,” she told the Board. “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.
“Everyone in our communities benefits from having more people eligible for employment and other resources that allow them to support themselves and their families,” she said.