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Civil rights groups closely watching Proposition 64

On Nov. 8, California residents will vote on a number of important ballot measures, and one of them has been widely supported by groups advocating for the legalization of marijuana as well as by civil rights organizations. If Proposition 64 passes, California residents and adults visiting the state will be able to possess up to an ounce of the drug legally, and the measure's passage would also allow judges in the Golden State to revisit the sentences handed down to individuals who have been convicted of marijuana-related offenses made legal by the measure during the last two years.

More than half of the drug possession arrests made in 2015 were connected to marijuana, and statistics reveal that individuals were arrested for possessing the drug more often than for all violent crimes combined. The ACLU is particularly enthusiastic in its support for Proposition 64 because African Americans are far more likely to face marijuana-related charges than Caucasians.

An individual convicted of selling marijuana without a valid license currently faces a custodial sentence of up to four years in California, but this would be reduced to six months in a county jail if Proposition 64 passes. Passage of the measure would also lead to the criminal records of many individuals charged with marijuana-related offenses being destroyed. While many people believe that Oregon and Colorado have led the way on marijuana reform, California lawmakers legalized medicinal marijuana in 1996 and then-Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law in 2010 that made possession of an ounce or less of the drug an infraction rather than a misdemeanor.

Criminal defense attorneys in California may understand the kind of impact that drug charges can have on an individual's life, and they will likely support any measures that reduce sentences for nonviolent crimes. Attorneys may also review the records of clients who may be eligible for resentencing should Proposition 64 be approved by voters.

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