The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion Tuesday to develop a plan to help make it easier for people to reduce or clear minor pot convictions.
Proposition 64, which state voters approved in 2016, not only legalized recreational marijuana use but also allowed people with certain pot-related convictions to have their records expunged.
The county district attorney’s office estimates there have been 40,000 felony convictions involving pot-related offenses since 1993. It is unclear how many of those people are eligible for relief or how many have petitioned for it.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, about a dozen people spoke in favor of the motion.
Some said they hoped this would help spread the word to people who don’t know relief is available or lack the resources to hire a lawyer and file a petition.
“I had a hard time working to get my conviction expunged,” Miguel Garcia told the supervisors. “It was a hard fight for me to find the resources.”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who wrote the motion, said he hopes the plan will prevent disproportionate enforcement of pot-related offenses and help reduce barriers for people seeking a job.
“It’s going to help people live better, do better and to not be stigmatized or weighed down,” Ridley-Thomas said. “The penalty must fit the crime.”
People of color in California, particularly African Americans and Latinos, have been arrested and jailed for marijuana offenses at much higher rates than white people, said Stanley Goldman, a professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School.
“People of color tend to be more heavily prosecuted under marijuana laws,” Goldman said. “One of the origins of that were the stop-and-frisk policies.”
The motion comes at a time when other counties in California have announced plans to review pot-related convictions eligible for dismissal or reduced sentences.
In San Francisco, Dist. Atty. George Gascón announced plans in January to review nearly 5,000 marijuana-related convictions. San Diego Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan said this month that the office is combing through and identifying cases eligible for reduced sentences or dismissal.
Los Angeles County appears to be taking a different approach.
Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said in a statement Feb. 2 that petitioning through the courts would be faster for people seeking relief than waiting for her office to review the case files.
The report is due back to the board in 120 days.