San Francisco Seeks to Vacate Cannabis Convictions
The San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascon, announced that his office will seek to vacate more than 9,000 marijuana related convictions in an unprecedented step following California's cannabis legalization over two years ago.
Code for America- a non-profit tech company seeking to improve government- has teamed up with the District Attorney to find every marijuana case eligible for expungement or resentencing under proposition 64 , which legalized recreational marijuana for adults over 21 and allows convictions to be expunged. San Francisco will be the first city in the country to clear all eligible marijuana convictions, such as legalizing possession of up to 28.5 grams of marijuana (HS Code 11357), cultivation of up to 6 marijuana plants (HS Code 11358), reducing both possession of marijuana for sale without a license, and the sale and transportation of marijuana without a license from a felony to a misdemeanor offense (HS Code 11359 and HS code 11360).
The district attorney's office has identified 9,362 eligible cases dated back to 1975. Gascon will petition the San Francisco Superior Court to expunge the cases in the upcoming weeks.
Several studies have established that marijuana convictions disproportionately affect the poor and people of color and can prevent access to federal housing and even obtaining loans.
A study by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2013 found that African-Americans in San Francisco were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white people.
Before the district attorney announced its decision to vacate all eligible marijuana convictions, only 23 people had come forward to petition to have their cases reclassified or expunged. People with prior convictions needed to hire an attorney, and the process was complicated.
In light of Gascon's efforts, people in the state of California and across the country hope that this approach will prompt other district attorneys to begin similar work.
Gascon said he wants to use Code for America's technology to identify other types of cases that may be eligible for expungement. For instance, thousands of cases under reform, like Proposition 47, which reduced many drug crimes and theft cases from felonies to misdemeanors, are eligible for reclassification or expungement. Although this law was passed, not many people have come forward to have their cases re-evaluated.
Gascon's efforts are a huge step towards criminal justice reform and providing those who should no longer be in prison a way out. His efforts should also provide others with a notice that their convictions for marijuana possession can now be expunged. If this effort was taken across California, the prison population would be significantly reduced and would assist in moving us away from the use of private prisons.