Most Californians are aware that recreational marijuana use was legalized in November 2016. What is less well known is that Proposition 64 (the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or “the Act”) also carried sentencing provisions, which eliminated penalties for minor marijuana offenses, and reduced penalties for more serious offenses such as selling or cultivating marijuana. More importantly, these provisions are retroactive. This has allowed many incarcerated Californians to file petitions under the Act and seek immediate release. Hundreds of inmates have achieved such release since the law took effect.
The Effects of Proposition 64
The Huffington Post reports that close to one million people in California qualify for relief under Proposition 64. This can include: reducing a felony conviction to a misdemeanor; terminating a sentence of probation or incarceration, expunging criminal records, or dismissing a pending case. The terms of Proposition 64 created a new law (California Health and Safety Code §11361.8) by which to facilitate the process of applying for relief.
Retroactive application of a sentencing law is unusual in and of itself, but §11361.8 is even more striking, in that it does not place a time limit on which the conviction must have occurred. Any person currently serving a sentence may apply for relief if he or she would not have been guilty – or been guilty of a lesser offense – had the Act been in affect at the time of the offense. Moreover, California courts are instructed to broadly grant petitions for relief. In order to deny such a petition, the court must determine that an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety would be posed by granting it. This creates a de facto legal presumption that qualified applicants are entitled to have their petitions for relief under the Act granted. This presumption can be challenged (and overcome) by a prosecutor, but it is still an advantage for defendants seeking relief from their sentences for marijuana offenses. Continue reading