Until quite recently, drug offenses were treated very harshly by the criminal justice system, with sentencing guidelines that put those convicted behind bars for years for relatively minor offenses. However, as more States approve recreational marijuana use, including California, and the State pushes its general goal of reducing the populations in jails and prisons, laws against the possession and sale of marijuana have become less strict. Further, a less well-known provision in a new law related to regulating the sale and possession of recreational marijuana, which goes into effect on January 1, will also allow many with past marijuana-related convictions to petition for their record to be cleared or the charges significantly reduced. The thought behind this section of the law is to make it easier for these individuals to obtain gainful employment, which is an issue that tends to primarily affect low-income minorities. A discussion of the provisions enacted to facilitate the legalization of recreational marijuana, and how those with past convictions can request their record be sealed or the charges reduced, will follow below.
New Laws on Possession and Sale
As of November 2016, possession of marijuana for personal recreational use up to 28.5 grams (just over an ounce), and up to four grams of concentrated hashish, is legal. It is still a criminal offense to:
- possess these substances if under the age of 21;
- possess these substances in quantities above those listed; or
- bring these substances onto the grounds of a K-12 school.
Note that sales of legally-allowed amounts will not begin until January 1, and must occur through licensed dealers.
The recent changes to the law also authorize most adults over the age of 21 to grow up to six marijuana plants, but cultivation above this amount is still illegal, and can be charged as a felony if the accused has a criminal history with violent felonies, as a sex offender, or previous convictions of two or more cultivation-related offenses.
As mentioned above, only licensed businesses are legally allowed to sell marijuana as of January 1, meaning possession with an intent to sell by others is still illegal. Evidence of an intent to sell usually involves showing a defendant was in possession of:
- a large quantity of marijuana;
- baggies and scales;
- marijuana divided into baggies or containers; or
- large amounts of cash and/or weapons.
Finally, as of January 1, it will also be illegal to ingest or smoke marijuana while driving or riding in a vehicle.
Requesting the Sealing or Reduction of Past Convictions
The decriminalization of marijuana means many individuals convicted of these offenses in the past would likely not face charges at all, or face misdemeanor or infractions, if the case were considered under the current criminal code. As of January 1, individuals with convictions of this kind on their record can petition to have their offenses reduced and records sealed in accordance with the present law if the offense would no longer be illegal or should be redesignated as a misdemeanor or infraction. Prosecutors can challenge these requests if other major felonies also appear on a person’s record, or the State has other concerns related to public safety. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney on this request gives these individuals the best chance at getting the outcome they want.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Drug charges are serious, and should not be taken lightly. Many employers will automatically reject an applicant with a drug conviction from consideration, impacting a person’s ability to make a living for the rest of his/her life. The attorneys at the Manshoory Law Group, APC represent clients in the Los Angeles area in a variety of criminal matters, and are available 24/7 to answer your call. Contact us today for a case evaluation.