Los Angeles District Attorney Is About to Clear Nearly 60,000 Cannabis Convictions
California is slowly making good on its promise to right the wrongs of decades of cannabis prohibition.
Published on September 28, 2021

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Nearly 60,000 Los Angelenos who were arrested for minor weed crimes within the past thirty years will finally have those criminal charges wiped off their records

Last week, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office is gearing up to dismiss around 58,000 felony and misdemeanor cannabis-related crimes. Former LA DA Jackie Lacey also dismissed another 66,000 weed convictions last year, bringing the total number of cleared cases to nearly 125,000.

“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” said Gascón in a statement. “It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services that previously were denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”

These dismissals are part of a larger effort to expunge weed-related crimes throughout California. In 2016, Proposition 64, the Golden State’s voter-approved adult-use law, made it possible for former cannabis offenders to apply to have their criminal records cleared. This tedious and time-consuming process could cost as much as $1,500, however, and fewer than 5,000 people ended up taking advantage of this opportunity.

In 2018, the state passed Assembly Bill 1793, a law that shifted the burden of expungement to county prosecutors. This bill required courts to identify every pot-related conviction that was eligible for expungement and then automatically clear these records. Thanks to this law, around 200,000 Californians have had their weed-related records expunged, NORML reports.

The 66,000 convictions that LA County dismissed last year were identified as part of this process, but this review only discovered cases that were recorded in state Department of Justice data. This year, Gascón directed his staff to take a deeper dive into their records, and turned up nearly 60,000 more cases dating back three decades or more.

"This is the unfinished work of Proposition 64,” said Lynne Lyman, former director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “We created the opportunity for old cannabis convictions to be cleared, but it was up to local district attorneys to actually make it happen. Proposition 64 was always about more than legal weed, it was an intentional effort to repair the past harms of the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition, which disproportionately targeted people of color. I applaud District Attorney Gascón for taking this action to help nearly 60,000 Angelenos have their records fully sealed.”

Gascón was actually one of the first state officials to kickstart the automatic expungement process. In 2018, when he was District Attorney in San Francisco, Gascón directed his office to clear thousands of former cannabis convictions, even before Assembly Bill 1793 became law.

But although California was one of the first states to roll expungement provisions into its adult-use law, it has also been one of the slowest states to accomplish its goal. Illinois has cleared half a million weed-related convictions since legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2020, and New Jersey managed to clear over 362,000 weed convictions less than three months after the state officially legalized pot.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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