You want to know what white privilege looks like? It looks like me.
I’m a successful entrepreneur, and I’m a felon, a multiple offender. I’ve been convicted at least six times for various marijuana offenses. But you wouldn’t know it if I didn’t tell you. There’s no record of my convictions.
What’s going on?
What’s going on is that I’m white, I’m male, I’m educated, and I have access to resources. I’ve been blessed with opportunity. I know my rights. Moreover, I’m not afraid to exercise them. I can afford litigators to successfully advocate my path to freedom.
But the statistics on many others who are arrested for growing, transporting or simply possessing marijuana add up to a different story. The arrest and prosecution of minorities for cannabis has been, and remains, disproportionate to their population numbers.
Until last year, they’d get a marijuana misdemeanor and find their record tainted for life. If you haven’t tried to get a job or apply for school or rent an apartment recently, you may not know what it means to have to admit to a crime on an application, a crime that might have happened 18 years ago. A crime that’s no longer a crime. Because it’s no longer illegal.
Passed by California voters a year ago, Proposition 64 allows governments and citizens themselves to expunge misdemeanor crimes entirely and reduce more significant cannabis crimes down to a lower level. It’s simple: marijuana offenses are no longer crimes, therefore we should not continue to punish the individual with a criminal record.
Some counties, like San Francisco and San Diego, are voluntarily expunging records and releasing non-violent cannabis offenders from custody throughout their rolls. San Francisco alone estimates it will impact the lives of as many as 5,000 citizens.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, recently introduced legislation that would make automatic expungement the norm across California.
On the other end of the spectrum is Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch. When questioned by reporters about her stance on cannabis misdemeanor expungement, Ravitch indicated that her office was not interested in helping. “If the voters had wanted us to take the affirmative action of recalling and dismissing all of those cases, it would have been part of the initiative,” she told the North Bay Bohemian. She’s got the letter of the law but not its intent.
Cannabis has disproportionately affected people and communities of color, and we need to recognize this fact and seek to rectify the wrong. Moreover, this is a progressive county where voters feel the weight of the moral issue. The only reason our Propostion 64 election numbers were lower than San Francisco’s is because we have so many growers here, as do Mendocino and Humboldt counties.
I understand that equation. What doesn’t make sense is why Ravitch, an elected public official whose job it is to protect and serve the people, would choose not to help our fellow community members who have been wronged by this failed war on drugs. I hope that she takes a second look at this.
Erich Pearson is the founder and CEO of SPARC, a cannabis company that farms, manufactures, distributes and operates retail cannabis locations in San Francisco and Sonoma County.