With marijuana laws changing across the country, several areas are now forgiving previous related convictions. In Los Angeles and San Diego, officials are proposing dismiss more than 50,000 charges.
The following is a re-post of an article written by Alene Tchekmedyian of the San Diego Union-Tribune
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Prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Joaquin counties announced plans Monday to automatically clear about 54,000 marijuana-related convictions, part of a growing movement to offer a clean slate to Californians hamstrung by their past now that pot is legal.
The effort is part of a partnership with Code for America, a nonprofit that developed an algorithm to quickly analyze county data to find out which cases are eligible to be cleared under Proposition 64.
Prosecutors estimate there are 50,000 eligible convictions in Los Angeles County and 4,000 more in San Joaquin County. It’s unclear how far back those convictions go.
“This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing the mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said in a statement. “Helping to clear that path by reducing or dismissing cannabis convictions can result in someone securing a job or benefiting from other programs that may have been unavailable to them in the past.”
Studies have shown that people of color are more likely to be arrested and punished in connection with the drug, which critics say perpetuates a cycle of poverty and incarceration by holding them back from getting jobs or finding housing.
A 2016 study found that although African Americans make up just 6% of California’s population, they account for almost a quarter of those serving time in jail exclusively for marijuana offenses.
“Those past harms were passed from generation to generation,” said San Joaquin Dist. Atty. Tori Verber Salazar. “This allows us to go back and correct those mistakes.”
San Francisco was the first to take on such an initiative, pledging to clear 9,300 convictions dating back decades as part of a sweeping effort to rethink “the war on drugs.”
Proposition 64 legalized, among other things, the possession and purchase of up to an ounce of marijuana and allowed people to grow up to six plants for personal use.
Under the measure, people convicted of marijuana possession can petition the courts to have those convictions expunged if they don’t pose a risk to public safety. People also can petition to have some crimes reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, including possession of more than an ounce of marijuana by a person who is 18 or older.
Nearly 60% of voters in Los Angeles County supported the measure.
Lacey, who is up for reelection next year, said in the past that her office would not automatically dismiss or reduce marijuana convictions and that people seeking to clear their records should do so using the courts.
Critics say the petition system is a cumbersome process that’s difficult to navigate. “Very few folks have been able to get through this process,” said Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America.
A bill signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown last year mandates the state build a list of all Californians eligible to have crimes expunged under Proposition 64 by July 1, with the goal of having all past marijuana-related convictions reduced or cleared in the state by 2020.
Code for America has its own goal — to expand the pilot program to more California counties and clear 250,000 convictions by the end of this year. The organization has previously delved into the realm of criminal justice. In 2016, it created Clear My Record, an online application that connects people with lawyers to clear criminal records across California.
“We never intended to punish people for life for crimes that are this minor, or that we no longer view as crimes,” Pahlka said.