Expunging marijuana convictions first step to remedying War On Drugs
Whether you’re an experienced stoner, a casual consumer or a non-user, it is widely recognized that this Saturday, April 20 is the holiday for all things related to marijuana. With this marking the third occurance of 4/20 since California voters passed Proposition 64 in November of 2016 — which fully legalized the use of marijuana in the state for those over 21 — expect a large number of Californians to be celebrating this weekend.
As many in the UC Davis community prepare for Saturday’s festivities, it’s worthwhile for weed users to note just how unique it is to be in a state like California — one that has been at the forefront of marijuana culture and decriminalization for decades. As the story goes, the association between 420 and smoking weed was first forged in Northern California in the 1970s. California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use when Proposition 215 was approved in 1996, and remains one of only 10 states (plus the District of Columbia) where the drug is fully legal.
But while recent California history has seen a liberal legislature and a mass public that is increasingly 420-friendly, there is much that remains to be done to repair the damage caused by the War On Drugs — a zero-tolerance movement that swept the nation beginning in the 1980s. For one, the federal government still classifies marijuana as an illegal Schedule I substance. And in the 40-plus years since the war was first waged, thousands of Californians have been punished for crimes that today wouldn’t even be considered misdemeanors. Even in the decade leading up to Prop 64’s passage, California arrested nearly half a million people for marijuana-related offenses from 2006 to 2015.
Even as arrests have dropped significantly since the drug’s legalization in 2016, discriminatory policing is an issue that still persists. A disproportionate number of those arrested for pot in California (and across the entire U.S.) are people of color. Despite evidence suggesting that people of all ethnicities use and sell marijuana at similar rates, non-whites are much more likely to face legal consequences for it, contributing to a cycle of incarceration and poverty that negatively affects many at-risk communities.
Fortunately, several major California cities have made plans to address some of these issues, starting with expunging past marijuana convictions. The San Francisco District Attorney’s office claimed in late February it had already begun removing pot convictions from the records of over a thousand people, saying that “it was the morally right thing to do.” Prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Joaquin counties announced earlier this month that they were beginning the process of expunging over 50,000 convictions, some dating back decades.
Along with clearing up criminal records and giving past offenders a clean slate, California businesses have also made changes to address the drug’s evolving legal status. The number of companies implementing pre-employment and workplace drug screenings is declining, according to the Los Angeles Times. And among those that still do, fewer are rejecting qualified applicants just because they test positive for THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, unless safety standards and federal requirements compel them to do so.
The Editorial Board commends California communities and businesses for their efforts in further decriminalizing this relatively low-risk drug and reminds those who choose to use marijuana of how fortunate they are to enjoy that right freely. The Board also encourages everyone to have a fun and safe 420 while acknowledging how much more needs to be done for people to enjoy that right equally.
Written by: The Editorial Board