Just a couple weeks ago Canada legalized marijuana, making it the second country and the first G7 nation to implement this legislation. Other G7 nations such as France, Germany, Italy, and Japan have yet to follow suit, making Canada a trailblazer. Canada also announced plans to pardon Canadians with cannabis possession charges of 30 grams or less. Taking a cue from our neighbors, earlier this month a new marijuana reform bill, formally known as Assembly Bill 1793, gives Californians with a record the chance for a fresh start as well.
Proposition 64, passed by the majority of voters in November of 2016, allowed adults 21 years of age and older to possess and grow specified amounts of marijuana for recreational use. The Associated Press noted, “When voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016 to allow adult use of marijuana, they also eliminated several pot-related crimes. The proposition also applied retroactively to pot convictions, but provided no mechanism or guidance on how those eligible could erase their convictions or have felonies reduced to misdemeanors.” This new bill changes everything.
Assembly Bill 1793, AB1793 for short, was signed into law on the evening of October 1st. California residents with previous cannabis-related charges will now be able to clear their names and records, even if they are unaware of their eligibility. California is the first state to automate the system, which lawmakers and bill supporters hope will be a game-changer for thousands of residents who have limited access to student loans, housing, and jobs because of their criminal records. Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the Department of Justice has seven months to review all marijuana cases and send potential petitions to county district attorneys. District attorneys will have one year to challenge or grant the petition to change residents’ marijuana-related convictions. Priority will be given to those currently serving time for marijuana-related offenses.
According to California Legislative Information, “The bill would require the court to automatically reduce or dismiss the conviction pursuant to AUMA if there is no challenge by July 1, 2020. The bill would require the department to modify the state summary criminal history information database in conformance with the recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal, and sealing, or re-designation within 30 days and to post specified information on its Internet Web site.” Council member Kriss Worthington stated that this bill would “level the playing field” for eligible individuals with cases that DA’s were previously “unwilling” to review. This new bill allows the Department of Justice to review cases dating as far back as 1975.
Worthington states, “(The bill) will save all the district attorneys, including ours, time from going and finding all these cases,” Worthington said. “It’s a very laborious, boring process to sort that out from all the records.”
This development comes one month after Buzzfeed reported on the Trump Administration’s plans to portray marijuana as a national threat. According to Buzzfeed News, “The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, as it’s named in White House memos and emails, instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration this month to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” about marijuana and the “threats” it poses to the country.” Despite the positive data supporting marijuana, officials were told to disregard this information and only report the negative findings.
It’s a relief to see California moving forward with this bill and shining a positive light on marijuana usage despite this opposition from the Trump administration. It is the hope of legislators that the passage of this bill will serve as a guide for the other states in the US who may potentially adopt similar measures.