February 25 – As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle and the LA Times, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office will move to wipe out more than 9,000 marijuana-related convictions, following California’s vote for legalization in 2016.
Teaming with the nonprofit technology company Code for America, the DA’s office said it has identified 9,362 eligible cases dating back to 1975 using the company’s “Clear My Record” technology. Gascón will present the cases to a judge in the coming weeks for final approval.
“It was the morally right thing to do,” said Gascón. “If you have a felony conviction, you are automatically excluded in so many ways from participating in your community.” Convicted felons face barriers to education, housing and employment, and may even be barred from a child’s school field trip because of a conviction.
Prop. 64, which voters passed in November 2016, legalized recreational marijuana in California for adults. The law allows people to petition to have misdemeanor convictions expunged, as well as allowing for certain felony marijuana convictions to be reclassified as misdemeanors. Those with prior violent felonies and registered sex offenders are not eligible to have their felonies reclassified.
Before Gascón announced plans to wipe out eligible marijuana cases, only 23 people had come forward to petition to have their cases reclassified or expunged. People with prior convictions usually needed to hire an attorney, and the process was complicated and time consuming, Gascón said.
Though San Francisco is about 5% black, that community saw a third of all marijuana-related convictions. Latinos make up about 15% of the city, but 27% of marijuana convictions, Gascón’s office said. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office estimates there have been 40,000 felony convictions involving pot-related offenses since 1993, but prosecutors have not said how many of those could be eligible for being expunged.
San Francisco was the first jurisdiction in the country to announce it would clear old marijuana convictions, prompting other district attorneys across the state and country to begin similar work. “I hope that our success with Code for America can act as a catalyst for other leaders looking to engage in similar innovative and out-of-the-box methods to reform and rethink what our criminal justice system looks like,” said Gascón.
“We applaud DA Gascón’s proactive and innovative action to expunge past marijuana convictions in California, and look forward to the statewide enactment of Asm. Bonta’s AB 1793, which was signed into law last year to automatically expunge or resentence such convictions statewide,” said Ellen Komp, Deputy Director of Cal NORML.