California has the oldest marijuana industry in the nation. Marijuana generates approximately $2 billion per year. Unfortunately the new regulations attached to California’s marijuana industry could keep victims of the drug war from being allowed to participate in the industry. Drug arrests and convictions have disproportionately impacted minorities. Some counties recognize this issue and are taking measures to make is easier for victims of the war on drugs to receive licenses. Nevertheless, the possibility of people with prior drug convictions being shut out of the industry remains.
In the recent edition of Time magazine “Marijuana Goes Main Street” Bruce Barcott reported “Every year between 2001 and 2010, around 800,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges, most of them for small-time possession. That was nearly three times as many people as were arrested annually in the early 1990s. Pot use had been slowly on the rise, but pot arrests had gone through the roof. The data was especially dire if you weren’t white. In California, arrests of nonwhite teenagers for pot possession surged from 3,100 in 1990 to 16,400 in 2010. A number of studies in the mid-2000s found that more than 40,000 people across the country languished in state or federal prisons on marijuana convictions. To put this in perspective, the entire prison population in most countries in the world is fewer than 40,000. The majority of those jailed on pot convictions were black men, who were four times as likely as white men to be arrested on marijuana charges.” (Time, pgs 6-7).
Some cities in California such as Oakland and Los Angeles have “social equity” applications. They are seeking to eliminate inequities by giving minorities who have been impacted by the war on drugs priority in licensing. However, the Bureau of Cannabis Control can refuse to give state licensing to people with prior convictions. At a recent workshop in Sacramento I was told by someone from the Bureau of Cannabis Control that the question is still up in the air. We will know more mid-November. Most likely licensing for people with prior drug convictions will be determined on a case by case basis. The new regulations might negatively impact not only newcomers to the market who have prior drug convictions but also growers and dispensary owners who have been operating inside the marketplace for years.
A convicted felon who wants to apply for a marijuana license in California should consult a California criminal defense attorney. Judges should dismiss and seal any record of conviction if the crime would no longer be a crime under state law.The Adult Use of Marijuana Act has a resentencing provision which allows people previously convicted of designated marijuana offenses to obtain a reduced conviction or sentence if they would have received the benefits of the Act had it been in place when the crime was committed. If the crime was for conduct now legal under the Act there is a provision requiring the court to “dismiss and seal” the record of conviction. If this step is not taken people with marijuana convictions and other controlled substances convictions could be shut out of the industry. People convicted of violent felonies and crimes of moral turpitude will almost certainly be kept out of the industry.We will know more mid November when the final regulations are issued. A California criminal defense attorney can help you navigate this issue.