Prop. 64 lets people reduce marijuana convictions, but hardly anyone’s doing it

When it passed in 2016, Proposition 64 made it legal to buy and sell recreational marijuana in California. It also included a provision that lets people convicted of certain marijuana related crimes get those convictions reduced or records expunged. Minors under 18 can have pot-related records destroyed, so those convictions won’t affect them in the future.

However, relatively few Californians have used the law to do just that.

In Los Angeles, around 600 people have taken advantage of the law, according to LA Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon. According to the The Drug Policy Alliance, about two hundred thousand people are eligible for relief through Prop. 64.

Ingrid Archie is one of the few to successfully reduce her charge.

When Proposition 64 passed in 2016, Archie took advantage of the law to reduce her marijuana-related felony. She found out about the law and got guidance from A New Way of Life Re-entry Project, a local nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women.

“It got bumped down from a felony to a misdemeanor- reclassified is what it’s called,” said Archie. “So now it’s a misdemeanor on my record. The next step is to get it expunged.”

Archie was in foster care at the age of six. By the time she was 18, she was living with someone who was involved in drugs and gangs. She was already on probation when police arrested her for gang affiliation and possession of marijuana in South LA back in 2004.

“I caught the marijuana conviction. I was in possession of a pound,” said Archer. “I went to prison for it. Three years. I did half time for it so I did about 17 months in prison. It was horrible. I was like twenty something years old.”

Once Archie got out, she got a job working for a telecom company and says she was making good money. However, years into her job there the company switched it’s policy: no felons could work there.

Ingrid Archie Photo: Jenny Hamel

“It was a good job,” said Archie, “So if I was truthful in this disclosing that conviction on my application. I wouldn’t have thought three four years later or six years later, I would have gotten laid off for it? So that’s what happened.”

She now works for A New Way of Life Re-entry Project, the nonprofit that helped her reduce her charges.

LA County Public Defender Nick Stewart-Oaten said the impact of Prop. 64 is significant because having a drug conviction presents obstacles for those looking for work or housing.

“I’m talking about someone who has done one thing wrong in their entire lives and they paid their price for it and 10, 20, 30 years later they’re still paying, because no one will hire them because they’ve got a felony conviction, because they can’t get license to do various jobs in the state of California or federally because of that conviction, or they can’t get housing because of that former conviction,” said Stewart-Oaten.

Joseph Petitt with the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, who put on a Los Angeles expungement clinic along with the Public Defenders Office and the Drug Policy Alliance. Photo: Jenny Hamel
People get help at an expungement clinic in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Jenny Hamel

It can be challenging to get charges reduced, according to LA Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon. He said that the main reason more people aren’t applying for relief is because they don’t know they can or they find the process intimidating.

“The burden is on the petitioner to come in and ask,” said Gordon. “There are many community organizations that are doing outreach. Public defenders and other community based organizations are doing outreach. I think some of it is knowledge and information.”

Statewide, around five thousand people with marijuana convictions have cleaned up their records. But the Drug Policy Alliance estimates that a million people might be eligible to get relief.

Last month, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced that his office wouldn’t wait for people to come forward, but would automatically dismiss 3000 misdemeanor cases and review another 5000 felonies. San Diego County is doing the same.

“We would be willing to take the initiative if we got the support from the Board of Supervisors and our other justice partners,” said Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey. “For me, it’s not a philosophical thing. I agree these convictions disproportionately affect people of color, African Americans. The voters have spoken about this, but in terms of San Fransisco, you have to look at scale. They are dealing with a fraction of the cases we’re dealing with.”

LA County Supervisors Mark Ridley Thomas and Hilda Solis have written a motion calling for the County’s Office of Cannabis Management to work with the DA’s office and other agencies over the next three months to figure out how the County might speed up the reclassification of minor pot convictions.

Meanwhile, the LA County Public Defender’s office and nonprofits are holding expungement clinics, letting people know their options and helping them with the paperwork.

Ingrid Archie wants to help get the word out to others about how Prop. 64 can help them.

“I did it and I come from an inner city and other people who have the same convictions can be able to see me and see that I did it and want to follow suit,” she said.