Tag Archives: law

New California Bill Aims to Expunge or Reduce Past Pot Convictions

Legalizing marijuana has offered some great benefits to California and the other 8 states who have passed similar legislation.  Some of the main benefits that come to mind are tax revenue, reduction in crime, personal freedom, and job growth.  These are all improvements that will help to make the future a better place.  Like other states in the past, California lawmakers are trying to undo some of the enormous damage the war on drugs has had in the past.  The senate voted in a large majority to require prosecutors to expunge or reduce the punishments for people who were convicted of marijuana related crimes since 1975.  The Department of Justice would need to review all these cases and determine which ones are eligible for reevaluation.  Misdemeanors would be expunged in most cases while some felonies would be able to be downgraded to what is now considered a misdemeanor offense.  This bill has not yet become law; it must be signed/vetoed by Governor Brown or it will go into effect automatically in early September.

Currently Oregon, New Hampshire, Colorado and Maryland have made it easier for past offenders to have their records sealed.  While California wouldn’t be the first state to successfully expunge past marijuana records, other legal states have struggled to offer similar protections.  These bills have faced opposition from prosecutors and other lawmakers who argue that these people knowingly violated the law at the time and it’s a dangerous trend to apply new laws to old cases.  For example in 2014, the year recreational sales began in Colorado, a similar bill died in committee.  The opposition argued that many drug distributors had their charges lowered to low level felonies.  Their concern was that these serious convictions would have the possibility of being changed to misdemeanors.  Luckily later in 2017, a similar bill was passed that just targeted marijuana misdemeanors instead of felonies.  While it won’t have as much of an effect at reducing the damage of the drug war, it is still helpful for many people.

If California is successful at passing this bill, they will have done more than any other state when it comes to requiring judges to excuse past marijuana crimes.  This is likely due to this issue being mentioned in Amendment 64, the initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in the state.  There was no framework established in 2016 when the initiative passed that established how the Justice Department would enforce the changes.  This bill clarifies many of the uncertainties by establishing deadlines for the department and establishing that both misdemeanors and felony pot convictions must be reviewed for eligibility.  There are a total of 218,000 cases that have the possibility of being expunged or downgraded to misdemeanors in the state of California alone.  Imagine how large this number is if we included all Americans since 1975. All these people likely have faced issues when it comes to key parts of life.  Things like seeking great employment opportunities or getting federal loans or grants for education can be nearly impossible.  Regardless what the laws used to be, people convicted of non violent marijuana crimes were never criminals.

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Medical Marijuana and Universities

Medical marijuana legislation in the United States currently provides essential protection from prosecution to approximately 2.3 million patients.  These patients are allowed to take their medicine almost everywhere, but when it comes to a federally funded college campus, those protections can vanish.  Medical marijuana use is viewed as narcotics use thanks to the controlled substance act that still lists marijuana as a dangerous drug.  Colleges are continuing to enforce a complete prohibition of the plant, and I’m afraid some people are not aware that bringing their medicine on campus can have serious consequences.  Not only have some students faced criminal prosecution, but they have also suffered additional penalties from the school administration.

One of the best ways to eliminate running into any trouble would be to seek off-campus housing.  It simply isn’t a viable solution to live in a dorm and hardly ever be able to find relief.  There would be nowhere safe to store it and even the idea of smoking off campus would mean getting a new small supply each time.  Edibles would be effective and stealthy, but many people prefer smoking/vaporization because the effects are immediate and much more predictable.  Storing edibles may be harder to detect but I would still not recommend keeping it anywhere on school grounds.  It wouldn’t surprise me if university police decided to weigh the whole edible and charge as if it were normal cannabis.  Having your medicine at housing near campus guarantees no legal trouble and allows you to use it as needed.  Patient possession limits are often set high enough to be considered intent to sell by police/universities.  In Michigan, patients are allowed to have 2.5 ounces in their possession which would easily land non-patients a felony charge for intent to distribute.  Always remember you’re subject to different laws on school grounds, regardless if it’s a college, high school, elementary etc.

I’m uncertain how long this type of prosecution will continue but I would expect to see some legislation taking effect before federal law officially changes.  Arizona has already made headlines this year when the supreme court ruled that banning medical marijuana on public colleges violated the protections of the voter-approved law.  Students in Arizona who have medical marijuana cards will not face criminal prosecutions but they have faced administrative penalties.  The possession, use, and sale are all still prohibited on college grounds due to the federal funding provided by the U.S. government.  That funding would not be threatened based on whether students are criminally prosecuted, but instead would be based on whether schools still prohibit the substance.  This is definitely a step in the right direction as students will likely be willing to risk administrative action in order to have their medicine easily accessible.  While other states have yet to enact similar policies, colleges across the country are removing the requirement that first-year students need to live on campus.  Universities are doing this so patients can continue using their medicine and pursue an education without the risk of endangering their future.  We still have a long way to go to ensure protection in the educational environment is not limited to those who treat their illnesses with pharmaceutical drugs.