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New California Bill Would Erase Prior Cannabis Convictions Automatically

Proposition 64 already grants Californians the right to expunge prior convictions, but new legislation could make the process automatic for former offenders.

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Photo via DNY59

A California legislator has proposed a new bill that would make it easier for individuals with state-level cannabis convictions to clear their records for good. Proposition 64 — the ballot measure which legalized marijuana in the state — already includes several provisions to help those with pot convictions, but a new bill proposed by Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta would provide even more assistance.

Under Prop. 64, Californians who have already served time for cannabis crimes are eligible to have their cases redesignated and dismissed or sealed, and those who are currently serving time can apply for resentencing. Felony charges can now be reduced to misdemeanors, and misdemeanors can be reduced to infractions or entirely removed from one's criminal records. Because the presence of felony or even misdemeanor charges on an individual's criminal record can block them from employment, housing approval, or voting, clearing these records can provide anyone busted for minor pot crimes the chance to return to a normal life.

Although the process of applying for resentencing or dismissal is relatively straightforward, the individual must initiate this process themselves. Applying to have one's records changed also requires the assistance of a lawyer, which can cost between $500 to $1,500. These fees are about as low as legal costs go, but can still be out of reach for lower-income individuals. As marijuana prohibition laws have historically targeted low-income and minority communities, the time and cost required to initiate this process may be beyond the financial means of many who are eligible.

As of September 2017, only around 5,000 people have applied to change their criminal records. Laura Thomas, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, estimates that there are actually over 100,000 people who are eligible to have their records changed under the new law. Thomas also told the Associated Press that many of the eligible individuals that she had spoken to were completely unaware that the law now allowed them to alter their previous convictions.

Assemblyman Bonta’s new bill would streamline the processes of redesignation and resentencing by requiring county courts to identify eligible convictions themselves, automatically expunge them, and then notify individuals that their records had been changed. This would shift the burden and cost of these legal processes from the individual to the state, Bonta explained to AP, giving “folks who deserve it under the law the fresh start they're entitled to.”