On January 1, California became the sixth state to allow licensed shops to sell marijuana to anyone with an ID proving they’re 21 and older.
While most of the headlines have focused on legalization and its impact on the state’s economy, a lesser known outcome of Proposition 64 fixes certain inequities that exist in our criminal justice system.
The law states that any Californian with a marijuana-related criminal conviction can now apply to have those offenses reduced or expunged.
For hundreds of thousands of Californians, this is a life-changing law.
Marijuana arrests create permanent criminal records that employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies and banks can easily find on the internet. As a result, convictions can bring severe consequences, making it difficult for individuals to find a job, apply for a loan or vote in a local election.
However, it also reduces the pool of applicants and potentially invaluable employees that can help employers succeed. An inclusive economy creates equitable opportunity that will benefit the whole of society. By passing Proposition 64, Californians have resolved a racial disparity that exists in our criminal justice system.
Historically, marijuana convictions have disproportionately hit underserved and low-income communities the hardest, despite the fact that these groups are no more likely to use or sell marijuana. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, African-Americans in California were five times as likely to be arrested for a marijuana felony than white offenders, and Latinos were 26 percent more likely.
Already, more than 4,900 people have applied to have their convictions reduced or removed.
Yet that is only a fraction of those able to seek amendments to their convictions. The Drug Policy Alliance found that California arrested 500,000 for marijuana offenses in the past 10 years and estimates that as many as 1 million individuals could be eligible for reduced or expunged sentencing under the new law.
The new marijuana law will enable more San Diegans to answer “no” when potential employers ask whether they have a felony in their past. This will infuse our region with more workers contributing to the economy and increase quality of life for more San Diegans.
To date, California has put little effort into outreach and awareness about this component of the law. I urge everyone to share this information with their networks to educate the community and help more people alter the course of their lives and contribute to our San Diego region.
About Kathlyn Mead
President and CEO of The San Diego Foundation, Kathlyn Mead has been actively involved in community throughout her career. National Medical Fellowships honored Kathlyn with its 2015 Leadership in Healthcare award. Charles R. Drew University recognized her commitment to community service with its 2011 Medal of Honor. Mead was named a 2008 Woman of Distinction by the University of Southern California, received San Diego’s 2004 KGTV-10 News Organizational Leadership Award, and is also a 2003 YWCA of San Diego TWIN awardee.