Not only did Proposition 64 make recreational cannabis use legal in California, it also gave residents the chance to reclassify or even clear any former pot convictions from their criminal records. Under the new law, any Californian can apply to have a current or former pot conviction reclassified, resentenced, or dismissed, but the individual must initiate the process themselves, which requires several hundred dollars in legal fees. These burdens, as well as a lack of widespread awareness of 64’s provision, have limited the number of people who are taking advantage of this opportunity. While an estimated one million Californians are eligible to have their records changed, less than 5,000 individuals have done so.
Recognizing the difficulty that low-income and minority residents may face in finding the time or money to start this process themselves, several local governments are stepping up to make the process easier. Last week, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office was reviewing cannabis cases dating back to 1975 to determine whether or not they were eligible for this process. As a result, over 3,000 misdemeanor pot convictions have already been sealed and dismissed, and another 4,940 pot felonies are being considered for redesignation to misdemeanors.
San Diego County has also announced that it will be helping its residents clear former marijuana convictions. A partnership between the county's District Attorney's office and the public defender has already sealed or reduced around 700 cannabis convictions, and are preparing to investigate another 4,000 cases. Fifty-five of these individuals were currently serving sentences of up to 18 years in prison for cannabis crimes, and have now had their sentences reduced by the Superior Court. “We wanted to be proactive,” Summer Stephan, interim district attorney for the county, said to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It’s clear to us that the law was written to allow this relief, and it’s important that we give full effect to the will of the people, especially for those who are most immediately affected.”
But while residents of San Francisco and San Diego are watching their former convictions disappear, citizens of the City of Angels have no such luck. Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey released a statement last week explaining that her office will not take on the task of automatically redesignating cannabis cases. In the statement, Lacey said that individuals who want to have their convictions changed will have to petition the courts on their own, “rather than wait for [her] office to go through tens of thousands of case files,” KTLA reports.
“In Los Angeles County, we estimate that there were 40,000 felony convictions involving marijuana since 1993,” Lacey wrote. The statement also explained that because the county D.A.'s office is “one of several prosecutorial agencies that file misdemeanor cases in Los Angeles County,” Lacey is unable to identify the exact number of individuals that are eligible to apply for dismissal of cannabis misdemeanors. Only 530 people in L.A. County have applied to have their convictions changed as of last December.