Few people know how to clear their old marijuana convictions

This article looks at why many Californians eligible to clear their old marijuana convictions are not doing so.

The new year in California brought with it an end to the state's prohibition against recreational marijuana. On January 1, 2018, the recreational use and sale of small amounts of marijuana became legal (at least under California law; federal law still says otherwise). However, what many people don't realize about legalized marijuana is that old pot-related convictions can now be redesignated, reduced or dismissed. People previously convicted of certain marijuana offenses can get a reduction of the charge or a dismissal if they would have under Prop 64 had it been in place when their crime was committed. As the Washington Post reports, up to a million Californians may be eligible to have their criminal records reduced or cleared, yet many of those who are eligible do not know how to go about cleaning up their records.

Proposition 64 and old convictions

When California voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016, they did more than just legalize the recreational use of marijuana, they also made it possible for people with old marijuana convictions to apply to have those convictions redesignated, reduced or dismissed entirely. The change eliminated many pot-related offenses entirely from the state's criminal code, while reducing many felonies to misdemeanors.

That change means that hundreds of thousands of Californians are eligible to apply to have their criminal records changed. Those convicted of a crime that is no longer considered an offense can have the record of that conviction cleared entirely, while those who were convicted of a felony which is now a misdemeanor or infraction can apply with a court to have the charges on their records reduced.

Many eligible Californians are missing out

Reducing, redesignating or dismissing charges is important in cleaning up someone's criminal record thereby opening future opportunities that would not have otherwise been available to them. Those with a criminal record often find it difficult to apply for a job, get a student loan or mortgage, enter college, or find suitable housing. Without a criminal record, those barriers immediately come down and even the reduction of a felony to a misdemeanor can have a very positive effect. Yet, despite the opportunity for up to a million Californians to have their records cleared or reduced, only about 4,500 people are recorded as having applied with a court to do so as of September 2017.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the problem may simply be that many people who are eligible to have their records changed aren't aware of the fact or don't know how to begin the process. That has led one state lawmaker to put forward a bill that would make these changes for marijuana-related offenses automatic, rather than having those carrying such convictions have to apply for them. It is not clear whether that bill will ultimately become law.

Help with criminal records

For the time being, to get a marijuana conviction redesignated, reduced or dismissed it is up to the offender to apply through the courts. If you have a prior marijuana related conviction, you should talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advise you as to your eligibility and help you clean up your record.