SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KION) Over a thousand people convicted of cannabis-related crimes in Santa Cruz County before the drug was legalized in the state will have their records cleared.
The Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office filed a petition to the superior court, and that court is going to move forward and have those convictions reduced, dismissed or sealed.
California legalized the drug two years ago, and the DA's office believes the convictions are now unfair.
"Jeff Rosell, our district attorney, filed a motion to dismiss over 1,100 marijuana convictions for non-violent marijuana possession offenses," said Alex Byers, who works in the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office.
"Yeah, let's go. Why is this taking so long? That's kind of how I feel about it," said Alida Lehman, the director of 3Bros Santa Cruz.
For Lehman, cannabis never should have been outlawed in the first place. She believes the plant has always had therapeutic and medicinal qualities and is less min-altering than other, stronger drugs.
"With alcohol, in my opinion, you can get to a point where you black out, you don't remember things," said Lehman. "I think a big danger with cannabis is you fall asleep and you might sleep for a little bit too long, you know."
"We hope that dismissing these cases can and will allow people to get better employment, housing and other benefits possibly that a clean record would provide them," said Byers.
But it is not only about providing a fair shake for those previously convicted. According to Lehman, it is also about racial and social justice.
"It disproportionately affects people of color and communities that are more poor, so I think it specifically affects certain communities," said Lehman.
The DA's office says it has worked with the state justice department and the county superior court to identify cases that qualify for reduction or dismissal. The cases date back to 1969.
"People are serving life sentences for cannabis crimes, and I think that personally that's absolutely ridiculous," said Lehman.
The DA's office says the superior court is in agreement and this is a done deal. Now, it is about the logistics. Once the information is sent to the department of justice, the DOJ will go through their database and change the information for each case.
UPDATE 6/25/2020 4:30 p.m. The Santa Cruz County District Attorney is petitioning to have more than a thousand marijuana convictions reduced, dismissed and sealed.
PREVIOUS STORY: Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell announced Thursday that the county's Superior Court will reduce, dismiss and seal more than a thousand marijuana cases.
The recreational use of marijuana among adults has been legal for several years, and the DA's Office said it recognizes that there is an unfairness for those who are still facing the consequences of a criminal conviction for something that is now legal.
"For many people, especially in communities hit hardest from the 'war on drugs', these old arrests and convictions, in some cases for minor amounts of marijuana, still haunt members of our community as they fill out job applications or apply for housing or other benefits. This inequity needed to be remedied," the DA's Office said in a statement.
The DA's Office said it has worked with the California Department of Justice, the Santa Cruz County Probation Department and the Santa Cruz County Superior Court to identify cases that qualify for reduction or dismissal. After a review, the DA's Office decided to petition the court to dismiss the qualifying convictions that date back to 1969. There were 1,169 marijuana cases identified involving 1,085 defendants.
“Our office recognized the undue burden that these prior convictions can have on people’s livelihood, both past and present. The decision to dismiss these cases provides much-needed relief to the non-violent people caught up in the ‘war on drugs’ and level the playing field for people convicted of crimes that are no longer crimes.” said Rosell.
Recreational use of marijuana for adults became legal when Proposition 64; the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act; passed in November 2016. The proposition also created a system to regulate non-medical marijuana businesses, imposed taxes on marijuana sales and changed penalties for marijuana-related crimes.
Prop 64 allowed people who had been convicted of qualifying marijuana-related crimes that became lesser offences to petition the court for re-sentencing, dismissal and sealing or re-designation. It passed in Santa Cruz County with about 70% approval.