One of the most commonly cited arguments for legalizing marijuana is the ridiculous amount of money spent by the government to enforce prohibition. But legalizing cannabis doesn’t make up for the many injustices caused over the past few decades by the War on Drugs. The state of California is trying to fix that.
The ballot initiative that legalized marijuana in California last November, known as Proposition 64, included a provision that allows for people who received cannabis convictions to apply for reduced charges or possibly expunge it entirely from their records. Since Proposition 64’s passage, several groups have stepped up to help people pursue the legal avenues to get their criminal records changed.
Pacific Standard reports at least 2,660 petitions have been filed since last November to change a person’s records, and at over 1,500 of those requests have been granted. Although those numbers are simply from self-reports made by various counties in the state. Public defender offices say they believe the number is much higher, and the board that reports about these petitions doesn’t reveal how many of its petitions have actually been changed.
California is not alone among legal states expunging marijuana convictions. Colorado earlier this year passed a law that would seal a person’s records if they were convicted of a crime that would now be legal in the state. But California definitely goes the farthest.
And some legal states have no such system in place. Washington state, for instance, has passed no law allowing for the expungement of records for marijuana convictions. There is a system for people to get their criminal records sealed or expunged in the state, but it requires the person to wait years after their sentence has completed.
So will California’s system become the model going forward? Probably not. A marijuana law expert told the Pacific Standard that while cannabis legalization is hugely popular amongst Americans, allowing people who have broken the law in the past to walk away with a clean record is less popular.
But it seems states are at least looking into rectifying the damages done from the War on Drugs. And every effort to do so is appreciated.