By Drew Gregory Lynch.
Recently proposed legislation would make it easier for Californians to have their pot convictions wiped away, in just the latest drug policy development following marijuana legalization on a state level earlier this year.
Under Proposition 64, California residents can petition to have certain drug convictions overturned – but Assembly Bill 1793, introduced by Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, in January, would make it even easier, by automatically clearing the records of those convicted of crimes that are now legal under the new law.
“Let’s be honest, navigating the legal system bureaucracy can be costly and time-consuming,” Bonta told reporters last month in Sacramento. “[It] will give people the fresh start to which they are legally entitled and allow them to move on with their lives.”
Offenses that can now be wiped away include past convictions for possessing up to an ounce of weed and growing between 1-6 plants for personal use, which are both now legal.
However, Bonta has not specified what the cost of such a move would be, as it would require courts to identity who’s eligible and then notify those persons of the changes.
But the proposal is in line with the positions of district attorneys in San Francisco and San Diego, who have said their offices will go through case files themselves so that residents don’t have to go through the petition process.
For example, in San Francisco, pot-related felony and misdemeanors dating back to 1975 will be cleared or re-classified based on the new state law. The city so far has identified 8,000 such cases and San Diego has identified around 5,000.
“Long ago we lost our ability to distinguish the dangerous from the nuisance, and it has broken our pocket books, the fabric of our communities, and we are no safer for it,” San Francisco D.A. George Gascon reportedly said late last month. “A criminal conviction can be a barrier to employment, housing and other benefits, so instead of waiting for the community to take action, we’re taking action for the community.”
Proponents of the move argue that it’s a necessary part of a legalization framework, as past convictions can be a hurdle to finding a job or obtaining certain professional licenses.
“This isn’t just an urgent issue of social justice here in California, it’s a model for the rest of the nation,” Lt Gov. and gubernatorial frontrunner Gavin Newsom added.
However, not all cities are taking this approach, as Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey says the city will instead have residents follow the petition process already in place.
“The process also allows people most affected by these convictions to pro-actively petition the court for relief and move to the head of the line – rather than wait for my office to go through tens of thousands of case files,” Lacey said in a statement.
As of September 2017, around 5,000 Californians have petitioned to have marijuana convictions expunged or reclassified.