Voters in California approved the legalization of cannabis a month ago— to date. However, before counting even a single vote, officials in San Diego County’s law-enforcement division were preparing in advance to get former weed “offenders” out of jail. California has long been one of the country’s most pot-friendly states. Currently, (due to the approval of Prop. 64 on Nov. 8) all residents ages 21 and over can possess up to an ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants in their private residence legally.
Although retail marijuana shops will not be open for operations until 2018, the current possession laws became effective at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 9th. That is when individuals incarcerated for a prior “crime” could petition for release.
Criminal justice officials were prepared.
As per San Diego-based KPBS; long before the vote, prosecutors and court officials reviewed court records with defense attorneys to locate individuals “in custody, so we could accomplish [their release] that much faster,” stated Rachel Solov with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office.
Approximately 20 prisoners in San Diego County have been released from custody, the station reported. “Dozens more” are to have reduced sentences and about 300 more will get off of probation early, KPBS reported.
Similar releases are occurring across the state. Prosecutors in Sacramento, San Mateo as well as San Francisco rounded up a total of about 375 cases where sentences will be reduced or prisoners released outright. The impact of Prop. 64 will stretch far beyond jails. Many more individuals can finally be relieved of convictions for petty marijuana offenses. Public defenders in San Diego said they still get phone calls from clients whose prior pot charges keep them from getting a job. The majority of people whose lives were ruined by cannabis prohibition are black or Latino.
Approximately 2,000 individuals in county jails or state prisons in California are eligible to have lessened sentences as per Prop. 64, the Drug Policy Alliance said to the San Francisco Chronicle. Lawmakers in the state said that legalization will save them tens of millions of dollars in incarceration and enforcement costs. It is ironic that the counties who have benefited the most are the ones with the strictest policies on marijuana and who also opposed legalization. Before the vote, these anti-pot folks stated that Prop. 64 was not legalization at all and would actually lead to more marijuana consumers in jail.
Considering the fact that growing even a single cannabis plant was a possible felony before the vote and is now legal— and considering that penalties for sales, production and transportation have all been significantly reduced; it is not clear where that logic began, but the discrepancies are easy to see. Legalization opens the door for pardoned offenders to enter the cannabis market. The state’s licensing guidelines require state permits to be denied to certain felons, but allows exceptions for individuals convicted of a cannabis crime—the same former “crimes” that may soon be expunged.
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