New data analyzed by New Frontier shows that an estimated 6,537 people were incarcerated in California jails in 2015, based on a statewide model of incarcerations derived from data provided by California counties. Similarly to arrest data, people of color are more likely to be incarcerated for a marijuana offense.
According to the report, commissioned by Drug Policy Action, Blacks make up six percent of the California population but 24 percent of those in jail for marijuana offenses. Not only is the decision to sentence a defendant to incarceration racially biased, but sentence lengths varied by geographic area with higher income areas handing down shorter sentences. For example, in the more affluent Orange County, the mean sentence for marijuana-only offenses was 32 days in 2014. In urban Los Angeles, the average sentence was almost 8.5 times longer at 269 days.
California has a long history of misclassifying Latino people as white in its criminal justice data. (See e.g., Jeffrey S. Passel & Paul Taylor, Who’s Hispanic, Pew Research Center (2009)). It is also well–documented that Latinos in California are 50 percent more likely than white people to be cited for a marijuana possession infraction and 35 percent more likely to be arrested for a marijuana misdemeanor or felony. For these reasons, Latinos are likely undercounted among people in jail in California for a marijuana-related offense.
“This blows a huge hole in the opposition’s claim that no one is in jail for marijuana in California”, said Lynne Lyman, California Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Clearly incarceration for marijuana is impacting thousands of families across the state. It is time to end this injustice.”
The label of “formerly incarcerated” can be a barrier to employment, housing and other services. A majority of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal for adults and subject to regulation. Because possession of less than an ounce of marijuana has been an infraction since 2011 and because of the state’s 20 year old medical marijuana law, many believe that there is no one in jail in California for a marijuana offense. Proposition 64 will end most marijuana arrests and allow people incarcerated to get reduced sentences and those living with criminal records to apply for record expungement.
“Proposition 64 is an important first step to repairing the damage done by marijuana prohibition and addressing the barriers to employment related to a marijuana conviction,” said Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Proposition 64 allows those in jail for marijuana offenses to petition to have their sentences ended or reduced and those who are already out can get their records expunged. Marijuana prohibition is a very real threat to our communities.”
Proposition 64 is comprehensive and thoughtful public policy, supported by the broadest and most diverse coalition to ever support legalization, which will strengthen California, end the failed criminalization of marijuana, and serve as a model for the rest of the nation. This measure reflects the input of hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals and experts to create gold-standard marijuana policy in a state as important, and as complex, as California. Proposition 64 protects small businesses, industry workers, medical patients, children, communities of color, and the environment.