Now that recreational cannabis is legal in California, the next logical step would be to dismiss all cannabis-related convictions in the state. This is exactly what San Francisco intends to do, according to the city’s district attorney when he announced that city prosecutors will be wiping out or reducing cannabis-related criminal convictions dating back decades.
According to District Attorney George Gascon, San Francisco will immediately dismiss nearly 3,000 misdemeanor convictions that date back to 1975, as well as wipe clean arrest records for those who had faced such charges.
San Francisco DA George Gascon pointed out that the petition process for old cannabis cases as allowed by the state’s law can take a long time and can be very costly, so city prosecutors plan to review and toss out the eligible cases en masse.
What’s more, the city intends to review nearly 5,000 weed felonies that had been recorded during the same time period. In appropriate cases, these cases will be re-sentenced to misdemeanor offenses.
Gascon said at a news conference on Wednesday that this is the city’s way of addressing the wrongs caused by the failures of the country’s war on drugs for many years and of starting to fix some of the harm done, especially to communities of color.
Proposition 64 and court petitions
Under Proposition 64, which legalized the use of cannabis for recreational purposes, individuals jailed for cannabis charges are allowed to petition courts to dismiss their cases or to reduce penalties. In fact, since the passage of Proposition 64, 23 petitions for dismissal or reduction have already been filed in San Francisco.
Gascon pointed out, however, that this petition process can take a long time and can be very costly, so city prosecutors plan to review and toss out eligible cases en masse. He explained that this move is better because some people with convictions may not even know they are eligible to file a petition.
A felony or misdemeanor conviction can have significant implications for housing, employment, and other benefits, Gascon added. And, in addition to being prohibited from owning guns, individuals convicted of felony also cannot vote and are barred from holding a range of professional licenses.
Needless to say, this particular move could prove to be life-changing for many people and could especially help African-American and other minorities, who were more likely to be arrested for such crimes than whites.
In the whole state of California, at least 4,500 people have already petitioned the courts to have their convictions expunged or reduced since Proposition 64 took effect in November 2016. But lawyers said that the requirements for such petitions make it difficult for low-income California residents to succeed in getting their records changed.
San Diego, too
Apparently, the city of San Francisco is not alone. San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan also said that prosecutors in her office started reviewing all cannabis-related cases after Proposition 64 passed. There have already been 55 people released from jail since and hundreds removed from probation.
Stephan also noted that so far, there have been 680 cases dismissed or reduced in the city.
Advocates want more counties and cities to do the same
Advocates are calling on more cities and more counties to throw out or reduce cannabis convictions.
County public defenders and pro-cannabis groups like the Drug Policy Alliance have organized legal clinics throughout California to encourage those who found guilty of weed offenses to petition the courts. So far, however, they’ve had limited success.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, there have been 500,000 arrests for cannabis offenses in the state in the past 10 years alone. It also estimates that up to a million people have reviewable convictions.
Laura Thomas, the group’s deputy state director, further estimated that more than 100,000 individuals are eligible to have their conviction records changed.