How Do You Clear a Pot Conviction from Your Record? It Depends on Where You Live

The Marshall Project

By Lee V. Gaines

Eddy, a burly 65-year-old professional musician, walked into a free legal clinic in Los Angeles County one July morning hoping to clear his record. More than three decades ago, he served two years probation for attempting to sell a few gram bags of marijuana, a felony that put the immigrant, a legal U.S. resident with a green card, at greater risk of deportation.

Thanks to Proposition 64, the California ballot initiative that legalized the recreational use of marijuana last November, Eddy has a chance for a clean slate. Under one provision of the law, many people with pot-related convictions can apply to have them reduced to lesser offenses or expunged, the legal term for having a case dismissed.

Eddy was one of several dozen people, mostly Latinos and African-Americans, who attended the legal clinic at Chuco’s Justice Center, a graffiti-covered community center in the small city of Inglewood, which borders Los Angeles International Airport. Staffed by volunteers from the national drug reform nonprofit, Drug Policy Alliance, and lawyers from the Los Angeles County public defender’s office, the clinic was one in an ongoing series of events held in recent months to help people get convictions reduced or dismissed.

A little more than a year after the passage of Prop. 64, at least 2,660 petitions have been filed to reduce sentences for people convicted of pot-related offenses. At least another 1,500 petitions have been filed to reclassify old felony marijuana convictions as misdemeanors or to dismiss them altogether, depending on the offense, according to the Judicial Council, the policy-making arm of the state courts.

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