February 1, 2018 – San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has announced that his office plans to retroactively apply Proposition 64 to past marijuana convictions by expunging and sealing all related records dating back to 1975. That measure, which California voters passed in November 2016, legalized recreational cannabis use and allowed those with marijuana convictions to petition courts to dismiss their cases. But many are unaware that they quality for resentencing or expungement, or are unable to afford to bring such a petition.
The New York Times reported that about 3,000 cases would be automatically erased in San Francisco, and an additional 4,900 felony marijuana charges will be examined by prosecutors to determine if they should be retroactively reduced to misdemeanors.
In addition, the Times reports, San Diego has identified 4,700 cases, both felonies and misdemeanors, that will be cleared or downgraded. Fresno County is dealing with them on a case-by-case basis, said Steve E. Wright, the county’s assistant district attorney. Jeff Rosen, district attorney of Santa Clara County, said he was working with the local public defender’s office to identify cases.
“The stigma associated with a marijuana arrest and criminal conviction is lifelong, and can directly lead to numerous lost opportunities later in life,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano told Bustle. “The San Francisco District Attorney’s office is to be commended for proactively rectifying this situation — one that has disproportionately burdened far too many young people and people of color.”
Cal NORML legal committee attorney Eric Shevin told The LA Times, “District attorneys certainly have the right to research their own records and dismiss these cases on their own, en masse. I applaud this D.A. for taking the initiative, and I hope others will follow.”
A statewide effort to require state courts to automatically expunge past marijuana convictions is underway, via Rep. Rob Bonta’s AB 1793, which Cal NORML supports. Rep. Bonta tweeted today, “This is the right thing to do. I encourage other District Attorneys throughout the state to follow San Francisco’s lead!”
On KQED’s Forum program today, Gascón said that, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, up to a million people have reviewable convictions on their records, but so far only 4800 people have petitioned for relief under Prop. 64. He mentioned employment, housing, student loans, and voting rights as some of the things his efforts will restore for convicted felons.
“DA Gascón deserves credit for taking this on,” said Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer. “Our attorneys report that too often DAs fail to expunge minor offenses even when state law requires them to do so.”
There were a total of 618,950 marijuana felony arrests in California from 1976 to 2016, plus 1,439,066 misdemeanors. It’s unknown how many of these were actually convicted (probably around 65%), nor how many were repeat offenders. The overwhelming majority of the misdemeanors were for possession of an ounce or less from before 2011 (when the penalty dropped to an infraction). These were supposed to be automatically expunged from people’s records two years after conviction, but in many cases Cal NORML legal committee attorneys have found this didn’t happen. See more arrest data.
Sacramento County Considers Dismissing Past Marijuana Convictions
“It’s not something that we’re opposed to,” said Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Robert Gold. “But we’re just going to have to see if, on a practical and legal method, that we could implement that.”