County supervisors approve cannabis plan

Marijuana. Katharine Lotze/Signal

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a proposal calling for the county Office of Cannabis Management to create a plan to reclassify and resentence some marijuana convictions.

“Part of what (county officials) want to do is to make it easy for folks to expunge their records for marijuana laws for people who have made a mistake but yet have tried to make their lives better,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “For people who have made a mistake but yet have tried to make their lives better, she believes in redemption in those cases.”

Officials said the proposal would be in accordance with Proposition 64, the voter-approved ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana but also allows for some cannabis-related convictions to be reduced or dismissed.

“The war on drugs led to decades-long racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests and convictions,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. “We have a responsibility now to seek widespread reclassification and resentencing for those with minor cannabis convictions on their records, including the destruction of court records for youth.”

Reducing or removing convictions for cannabis would open opportunities to employment, housing and financial assistance, Ridley-Thomas said.

“For many, this is the second chance that was due to them, and has been a long time coming,” he said.

Ridley-Thomas and fellow supervisor and co-author Hilda Solis said drug enforcement has disproportionately impacted African-American and Latino communities. Other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen arrests fall after legalization, but have not used data tracking, which has resulted in racial disparities. As an example, the supervisors said three times as many African-Americans were arrested in Colorado compared to Caucasians, Ridley-Thomas and Solis said.

Drug Policy Alliance Policy Coordinator Eunisses Hernandez told the board the barriers to employment are a major issue for those previously arrested for using marijuana.

“The act of getting someone’s conviction reclassified or dismissed off their record removes at least 4,800 barriers that prevent them from obtaining housing, employment and supportive services,” Hernandez said. “Providing post-conviction relief services opens the door for new opportunities that allow people to fully integrate back into their communities after being impacted by the criminal justice system.”

In December, the county launched, a website that includes information from the Los Angeles County Office of Cannabis Management about proposed policies for unincorporated areas, frequently asked questions, public listening sessions, advisory group recommendations, resources for parents and teens, and rules for consumers, personal cultivation and cannabis businesses.

Barger still has questions over the details regarding the financial aspects of the county’s nascent marijuana legalization policy, which was approved in a November 2016 ballot measure, but only took effect Jan. 1 of this year.

“(Barger) still wants to look a little more closely at some of the funding requests for cannabis regulations,” Bell added. “She has a lot of questions around this.”

The Santa Clarita City Council voted in November to lengthen a moratorium on commercial cannabis businesses. Councilman Cameron Smyth said last month he is working with a medical marijuana co-op owner to address medical marijuana.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, the agency that regulates taxation of marijuana, announced the cultivation tax rates for cannabis: $1.29 per ounce of fresh cannabis plant, $2.75 per dry-weight ounce of cannabis leaves and $9.25 per dry-weight ounce of cannabis flowers. The administration, which said the taxation was established as part of voter-approved Proposition 64, also said cannabis plants must be weighed within two hours after harvesting.

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