Green Wave: Legalized Marijuana Setting Scores of Defendants Free

Article by David Downs, San Francisco Chronicle

Chris Phillips, a marijuana entrepreneur and Livermore father of four, faced five felony counts and possible prison time after he was accused of illegally growing pot at his home, which police raided in June.

But when California voters legalized cannabis for recreational use Nov. 8, they retroactively erased several small-time pot crimes and reduced the penalties for bigger ones like growing, selling and transporting.

So at 9 a.m. the next day, Phillips sat in a courtroom in Pleasanton. He was first on the docket, and it wasn’t long before his attorney Bill Panzer and Alameda County prosecutors hammered out a deal for the 36-year-old to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor possession charge.

“It was literally a sigh of relief,” said Phillips, who runs several pot farms, a medical dispensary in Long Beach and an extract brand — and had been out of jail on a half-million-dollar bond.

“I have four kids,” he said. “The police put assault rifles in their faces. My family has PTSD from it. Every time we see a cop, we get scared. My kids don’t want to interact with them. I’m trying to teach them, ‘No, it’s OK to talk to them.’ Sometimes things happen.”

Much of the debate over Proposition 64 centered on how it would allow adults to use marijuana, while creating taxed retail stores and turning a shadowy industry into a free-market competition. But the core motivation behind legalization was the growing view that punishing people for pot does more harm than good, especially since those arrested have disproportionately been people of color.

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