The Napa County District Attorney and Public Defender have partnered to reduce or dismiss 160 cannabis-related charges, spurred by California voters’ decision to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.
Proposition 64, passed by voters in November 2016, provided a framework for a recreational cannabis businesses, and allowed adults 21 years and older to consume, carry and grow limited amounts of the drug. It also allowed courts to reduce or dismiss old cannabis-related offenses with penalties that would be reduced by Prop. 64.
District Attorney Allison Haley said in a press release that the office began proactively reviewing cases nine months ago “based upon the passage of Proposition 64 and the will of the voters.”
The DA’s office determined 295 cases were eligible for review, according to a DA’s statement. Many people affected by those cases had already petitioned for lesser penalties, but of those who had not asked for relief, 93 cases were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, 57 were dismissed and 10 were reduced to infractions.
“This way, the law is implemented evenly, equitably and fairly instead of just doing it for some people,” said Assistant District Attorney Paul Gero, who reviewed the cases.
These reviews can wipe out criminal records and improve a person’s chances for employment.
Governing, a national magazine, reported in October 2018 that the Drug Policy Alliance estimated nearly 1 million people were eligible to receive a new sentence thanks to Prop. 64, but fewer than 6,000 people tried to do so between November 2016 and March 2018.
In early 2018, the DA’s office saw its counterparts in San Francisco, Yolo and San Diego counties announce plans to partner with public defenders and begin proactively reviewing, dismissing and reducing such charges.
“A criminal conviction can be a barrier to employment, housing and other benefits,” wrote San Francisco DA George Gascón in a press release announcing the resentencing campaign.
The Napa County DA said it wanted to do the same, but lacked the manpower.
The plans were shelved until volunteer law clerks came into the picture for the summer of 2018.
“That’s when I got excited, that we can do this,” Gero said.
Gero said he began reviewing potential candidates for resentencing in May and law clerks took over from June to August. All cases since 2011, the earliest year for which digitized court records are available, were considered.
He then reviewed the charge, offender’s age at the time of their violation, type and quantity of cannabis product, criminal history and police reports to determine whether the law deemed them to be eligible for a sentence reduction or dismissal.
The county Public Defender’s office pitched in to draft petitions for eligible parties. Kristen Keeley, who led resentencing efforts for the Public Defender’s office, did not return requests seeking a comment.