About 30 years ago, Berkeley City Council voted to make marijuana convictions a low priority for local law enforcement — the Berkeley Police Department, however, has issued more than 140 citations for marijuana law violations since 2013.
The number of citations per year has decreased since 2013, when there were 58 citations total, according to BPD documents secured by The Daily Californian. Before 2017, the number of citations remained above 20 per year, but in 2017, after the legalization of recreational marijuana, the number of citations reduced all the way down to nine.
According to Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, in 1979, the city of Berkeley voted to make marijuana-related violations a low priority for Berkeley law enforcement.
“That’s been a policy of Berkeley for decades. … I don’t know the facts of those cases; it just seems odd that there’s over 100 cases that would get convicted,” Worthington said.
BPD could not be reached for comment.
Information about these citations, however, comes at a time when the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is making an effort to dismiss marijuana-related criminal convictions across the board, in light of the recent legalization.
In November 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana sales for adults 21 and older. According to Teresa Drenick, deputy district attorney for Alameda County, Prop. 64 “represents a huge change in laws surrounding cannabis.”
On Tuesday, District Attorney of Alameda County Nancy O’Malley issued a press release that addressed the office’s efforts to dismiss marijuana-related felony and misdemeanor convictions.
The current marijuana laws outline guidelines and penalties for possession for personal use, possession with intent to distribute, sale and delivery, cultivation, and paraphernalia, according to the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act.
As stated in the press release, these efforts began with the implementation of Prop. 64, and Alameda County District Attorney’s Office staff have been working on handling these petitions to have citations reversed on a weekly basis.
Worthington added that it would be more efficient to pass a state law that would automatically wipe out past marijuana convictions.
Attorney James Anthony, who advocates for the “cannabis community,” spoke about the challenge with marijuana convictions post-Prop. 64, stating that it’s unfair to be punished for something that’s now legal.
Anthony said the possibility of new legislation that will systematically annul marijuana citations will expedite the process because it will be done automatically and people will not have to take time off of work. The new legislation, Anthony added, promises that everyone will have their convictions expunged, instead of a selected few. According to Anthony, the current process of repealing marijuana convictions requires concerted efforts.
“California is offering a second chance to people convicted of cannabis crimes, from felonies to small infractions, with the opportunity to have their criminal records cleared,” O’Malley said in the release. “We join our State officials and intend to reverse decades of cannabis convictions that can be a barrier for people to gain meaningful employment.”