March 9, 2017
On November 8, 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64 into law, legalizing the possession, transport, purchase, consumption, and sharing of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to eight grams of marijuana concentrates for adults aged 21 and older. Prop. 64 also reduced or eliminated criminal penalties for most marijuana offenses and made those changes retroactive for individuals who were convicted before Prop. 64 passed.
The impact of Prop. 64 on the criminal justice system was immediate. Pending felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors and many individuals held in jail were released, since most had already spent more time in jail awaiting trial than they could be sentenced to under the reduced penalties. People serving sentences in jail or on probation were also impacted when their sentences were reduced. Building on the transformative work of Prop. 47, which passed in 2014, Prop. 64 also allows individuals with prior qualifying marijuana convictions to petition a court to have their convictions reduced or dismissed.
In one decade alone, half a million Californians were arrested for marijuana offenses. Meaning that at least tens of thousands of individuals qualify to reduce or remove their sentences under Prop. 64. In an effort to help advocates and applicants change criminal records under Prop. 64, the Drug Policy Alliance recently issued a guide to resentencing and reclassification.
Persons currently serving a sentence in prison or county jail, or who are on probation, post-release community supervision, or parole, may petition a court for resentencing. Individuals applying for resentencing are entitled to an attorney and should reach out to their attorney or public defender that represented them in their original case for help. Public defenders around the state are already leading these efforts.
Persons who have completed their sentences and are no longer in custody or under supervision, may apply to a court for reclassification. If a person is eligible, meaning they were convicted of a crime changed by Prop. 64, the court must reclassify their conviction. How it would be reclassified—to an infraction, misdemeanor, or outright dismissal—will depend on how the offense was changed by Prop. 64. (See Appendices and A and B of the guide for each specific offense.) In many cases, individuals can complete these applications themselves with the help of this guide, or with the brief assistance of a legal services organization or public defender. There is no time limit by when these applications must be filed.
Be sure to check www.myprop64.com for the latest information on changing criminal records under Prop 64.
Joy Haviland is a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.