Photo via Adoramassey
One of the most forward-thinking aspects of Proposition 64, California’s voter-approved measure which legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, is that it also allows any state resident with a current or former cannabis conviction to apply to have their sentences reduced or cleared entirely. But out of the estimated one million Californians eligible to have their records cleared, only a few thousand have completed the process, due to the time, effort, and legal fees involved.
Several District Attorneys' offices around the state decided to take matters into their own hands and directed their staff to identify and clear eligible convictions themselves. Officials from San Francisco, San Diego, and other municipalities — including Alameda, Sonoma, and Yolo counties — all announced that they were working on erasing thousands of old pot convictions from their records. The process has been relatively slow to start, but San Francisco D.A. George Gascón just announced a partnership with nonprofit Code for America, who are working to automate the process.
Notably absent from the list of local governments correcting the wrongs wrought by decades of cannabis prohibition was Los Angeles County. After other major cities announced their plans to help former convicts, L.A. County D.A. Jackie Lacey released a statement explaining that her office would not be working to identify or clear eligible records. Lacey estimated that there were around 40,000 felony convictions involving weed in her county since 1993, with many more misdemeanors.
Angelenos stuck with marijuana convictions are still in luck, however, as the L.A. County Board of Supervisors just unanimously voted to create a set of guidelines to fast-track the record-clearing process for their county's residents. The motion directs the local Office of Cannabis Management to develop countywide recommendations on how to expediently clear former convictions and to allow currently-imprisoned marijuana offenders to apply for resentencing.
“The War on Drugs primarily hinders communities of color,” said county Supervisor Hilda Solis, who proposed the motion with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in February, according to Courthouse News Service. “Our goal at the County is to give people second chances and remove barriers to employment and a productive and happy life.” In her statement, Solis noted that hundreds of thousands of L.A. County residents may qualify to have their convictions or sentences cleared or reduced.
The Supervisors' motion also officially declares support for California Assembly Bill 1793, a bill that would shift the burden of applying for resentencing or dismissal from the individuals to the state. The bill, proposed this January by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, would require the state Department of Justice to identify all relevant cases, notify the relevant prosecutors, and then automatically reduce or dismiss any case that has not been challenged by the prosecution.
Bonta explained that the time and effort involved in petitioning the court to have one's records changed is too much of a burden for many cannabis offenders. “There’s a fee for requesting criminal records, a fee to file paperwork with the court,” Bonta explained to MERRY JANE in February. “There’s the time it takes off of work or from family to seek this relief in court. You might have to go to court multiple times, and you might even have to hire an attorney if the D.A. challenges your request. All of that was just way too burdensome.”