by Chivis Martinez for Borderland Beat
California’s 2016 marijuana ballot initiative hasn’t generated much noise in the media, and that goes for inside California itself. But there should be interest because the issue goes far beyond giving the legal right to citizens over the age of 21 to smoke pot recreationally.
In 1996, California became the ground breaking state as the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, pursuant to California proposition 215. The initiative did not affect federal laws.
According to Gallup, in 1996 73% of United States citizens still opposed any legalization of marijuana, or 27% supporting legalization, when the question was asked, “Do you think marijuana should become legal?”
Today, in 2016, among U.S. voters, the percentage of support has climbed to approximately 62% when averaging polls.
In 1996, the majority of citizens were wary of legalization and suspected legalization would have a negative and dangerous impact on American society. In the passage of time, when the daunting warnings of the opposition, did not come to realization, the number of those opposing legalization steadily decreased. Interestingly, the number of Americans using marijuana did not have a dramatic increase. In 1996 the number was 34% and in 2015 that number was 38%. 1 in 8 adults admit to at least “trying marijuana at least once”.
The impact on the criminal justice system will have an immediate and dramatic effect. Each year 35-50 thousand pot arrests are conducted in California, with about 15,000 of those being felonies. Blacks and Latinos use or sell marijuana at the same rate per capita as whites. Yet, California’s Black and Latino marijuana arrests, are grossly disproportionate opposed to whites, at double the misdemeanor arrests and a whopping 5 times the rate in marijuana felony arrests.
Says Jolene Forman, Staff Attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “While many people believe that marijuana is essentially legal in California, data show us that thousands continue to be arrested annually for marijuana activities, These arrests fall disproportionately on black and Latino Californians. The only way to begin to repair these disparities is to move marijuana into a fully regulated market and to reduce or eliminate criminal prohibitions for minor marijuana activities.”
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In 2010, California Supreme Court, ruled that many of the amendments effecting the 1996 Prop 215, were illegal and were tossed out, along with the imposed limits.
Currently, the penalty for being in possession of up to 1 oz renders a 100 dollar fine. This penalty was changed in 2010 and became law in 2011. There is no longer a “mandatory court appearance”, and does not generate a criminal record. In essence such offenses are treated much like traffic offenses.
There is an approximate figure of ten thousand people serving time for marijuana crimes. If prop 64 passes into law, these marijuana crime inmates can apply for an immediate release from prison.
There are important sentencing reforms in prop 64, reforms that eliminate or at least reduce the majority of criminal marijuana offenses. Additionally, penalty reductions are immediate and retroactive. Thousands of Californians can petition to have their sentences tossed out, or reduced and hundreds of thousands of Californians will be able to have their records expunged.
Past violators of many marijuana laws can also request and expungement of their criminal records.
This will impact those with low level marijuana crimes, they will be free from “arrest” records being reflected on applications such as job and housing. For those people this can be life changing.
|A California Emerald Triangle pot farm
New York Times; “The Times interviewed a 43-year-old mother dogged by a pot ticket from her twenties. She handed a bong to a cop more than two decades ago, and it has disqualified her for jobs and she couldn’t volunteer at her kid’s school. Now, no one will see that conviction ever again.”
The dirty part of such expungements is the felony violators that cut deals with the D.A.. Deals, sometimes involve agreement to a lower level offense, which does not reflect the serious and true nature of the crime involved, e.g. large scale cultivation for sale. But the overwhelming majority of offenses are low level offenses.
California may pattern its formidable task of expungement after Oregon’s program. Those with low level felonies or misdemeanor marijuana crimes can, after 10 years, expunge the record with a caveat of no re-offenses.
Whereas expungement will have a positive impact on California citizens being flagged for criminality for low level marijuana crimes, there is concern as to how the state treats felony arrests. Excluding repeat offenders from the program will eliminate many of those consternations.
The NYT weighs in; “Clearing a record of past convictions, even in states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, remains controversial. In Colorado, prosecutors have wide latitude to oppose such applications and often do, especially in cases in which a person faced more serious felony charges, like drug manufacturing, but pleaded guilty to a lesser offense like simple possession.”
California broke the legal barrier when Medical marijuana became legal, but it will not be the state breaking the glass ceiling on the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. It was Colorado and Washington state who were the first states to legalize marijuana in the year of 2012, followed by Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. in 2014.
However, if 64 passes, California will triple the nations legal marijuana market, with its three county marijuana growing power block called the Emerald Triangle.
Known as the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” (AUMA) has 60% of voter support and wide spread political support.
Five states have recreational use of marijuana on the ballot; Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada Three others; Florida, Arkansas…. and North Dakota, will decide whether to permit marijuana for medical purposes…. Montana will vote on whether to eliminate some restrictions on its existing medical marijuana law.