The state legislature approved a bill Wednesday that would require California prosecutors to erase or reduce thousands of marijuana criminal convictions. It now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown.
Several pot-related crimes were eliminated when voters made recreation marijuana use legal in California. However, there was no guidance on how those eligible could erase convictions and/or have felonies reduced to misdemeanors.
"People are having to go through background checks for everything nowadays," said Cole Casey, a criminal defense attorney in San Diego. "The impetus behind the bill is that we don't want those people having the embarrassment and stigma of having a drug conviction on their record when it's no longer a crime to do that same activity now."
In San Diego as well as San Francisco, some eligible people hired lawyers on their own and petitioned courts to review past cases. Thousands of cases combined resulted in erased or reduced sentences.
"Here in San Diego County we have already processed just under 1,300 petitions since recreational marijuana became legal," said Rachel Solov a deputy district attorney and Chief of the San Diego County District Attorney's Office Collaborative Courts division.
Solov added that is a lot of petitions compared to other parts of the state.
But Casey added it could also add a slew of new cases for an already overburdened state judicial system.
"The court system is going to feel this," said Casey. "It's already strapped for resources as it is."
Non-violent, felony convictions for possession or distribution of less than an ounce of marijuana are eligible for reductions to misdemeanors, though prosecutors can challenge applications based on the person's criminal history.