In two weeks, recreational marijuana will be legal here in California and because of Prop 64 some residents will have an opportunity to erase, or reduce pot related charges on their criminal records. The California Judicial Council says there are already more than 4,500 people who have filed paperwork to have their criminal records changed and the Drug Policy Alliance believe more than one million Californians will soon be looking to have marijuana charges reduced. That’s a huge volume of new cases to be heard in California courts.
“I don’t think they thought of how many people who are out there who actually have marijuana convictions. For people who it’s been difficult to find a job, or for applications, or for their kids, or for gun permits. You can’t possess a gun if you have a previous felony and a marijuana conviction can count as a previous felony,” said criminal defense attorney Peter Kapetan.
Kapetan says there are many reasons why people will be trying to wipe marijuana charges from their record, but even just reducing marijuana related charges (specifically tied to guns) could get inmates out of jail sooner.
“It made a lot of crimes less severe, or not a crime at all, so what may have been a felony in the past can now be a misdemeanor,” said Kapetan.
Because of this, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims is concerned old plea deals could now pose a threat to public safety.
“They pled to something much less and that much less fits into Prop 64, and they could have their record expunged when in fact they committed a very serious, very dangerous crime,” said Sheriff Mims.
California’s judges will take a good look at each petition, but legally must reduce or wipe marijuana charges if it meets requirements under the law.
“My hope is that the courts will really take a close look at the case, where it started, all of the issues that were involved and not just put a check mark by the box,” said Sheriff Mims.
The justice system is now bracing for a lot of marijuana related paperwork.
“I think we are going to see a flood of these in the future and the court is going to have to figure out a system, whether it’s a dedicated court to deal with specifically these type of cases , or something else. They are going to have to find a system to deal with them,” said Kapetan.
Attorneys I talked to say the number one reason people want the marijuana charges off their record is because it’s hurt them in landing a job, but some of these convictions are decades old and it may be very difficult to come up with the documents needed to complete this process.