AG Bonta Pledges DOJ Help to Clear Past Marijuana Convictions in California

UPDATE 9/22: Asm. Mia Bonta’s bill AB 1706 to expedite clearing of marijuana records in California has passed and was signed into law. Thanks to all who took action on this bill!

California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta has issued an information bulletin to all district attorneys, chief justices, and court executive officers across the state calling for all prosecuting agencies and courts to “prioritize implementation of the cannabis resentencing process provided under Health and Safety Code Sec. 11361.9 so Californians can promptly obtain the relief to which they are entitled under the law.”

While serving in the state assembly, Bonta was the author of Assembly Bill 1793, which codified the law requiring the DOJ to identify cannabis cases eligible for expungement and send that information to county DAs by July 1, 2019. The DAs then had until July 1, 2020 to review all cases and inform the court and the public defender’s office in their county that they are challenging a particular case.

The AG’s bulletin states:

As of December 1, 2021, DOJ has identified that there are still past convictions in the state summary criminal history information database that are potentially eligible for recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or re-designation pursuant to Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) (HSC section 11361.9.)…we are aware that there are some prosecuting agencies that have not provided a complete listing of cases to the court for processing. In this event, the court may not have been able to “reduce or dismiss the conviction” or subsequently “notify the department of the recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation.” 

Cal NORML has been tracking the expungement process whereby many DAs announced they had released cases to the courts for dismissal in 2020; however others did not. In any case, the courts must then act to clear records and there is no deadline in the law for them to do so. The state Judicial Council, which opposed AB 1793 and asked for $5 – $25 million to implement it (and reportedly received $14 million), released some preliminary, unvalidated information in March 2021 (shown in chart above) from a survey it did of state courts showing that many counties have yet to fully comply with the law. LA NORML director Bruce Margolin reported in October 2021 that a client of his suffered consequences of an unexpunged marijuana conviction from Marin county, where as of March only 50% of cases had been processed.

“The DOJ is here to assist and ready to help,” says the AG’s bulletin. “All existing disposition reporting methods can be utilized to report this data to the DOJ. Additionally, the DOJ created a new data reporting method that can be used specifically for these cases.”

“We welcome AG Bonta’s leadership in moving prosecutors and courts in compliance with state law clearing or resentencing past marijuana convictions, and enabling California citizens to move on with their lives,” said Cal NORML deputy director Ellen Komp. People can check their criminal records via the DOJ site for $25 (and have that fee waived).

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