Following the 2016 state ballot measure that legalized the recreational sale of pot, San Francisco’s District Attorney George Gascón has said that the city plans to throw out thousands of criminal convictions for marijuana. The affected cases will date back many decades.
In 2016, voters in California voted to legalize the recreational sale and use of cannabis in the state. With the passage of that vote into law on 1st November, 2016, it is now legal in California for licensed dispensaries to sell pot to non-medical patients.
Although California is not the first state to legalize marijuana, it is going a step further by retroactively applying the new law to past criminal cases. This means thousands of misdemeanor and felony convictions involving cannabis may be totally expunged from the records or reduced.
The statement from the District Attorney came after Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat from Oakland, introduced a bill to make expunging marijuana convictions easier for people across the state. The DA estimates his office will dismiss over 3000 misdemeanor convictions dating from as far as 1975.
An additional 5000 felony convictions will be eligible for review and possible re-sentencing. The DA’s office intends to review and wipe out these eligible cases en-masse because there are too many of them and dealing with them individually will be too costly and time-consuming.
A misdemeanor or felony conviction can have far-reaching implications on individuals’ lives by severely limiting their access to employment, housing, and other government benefits. This unprecedented move will lift the ceiling that having a criminal record has imposed on thousands of people.
California state data already shows that, as of September, nearly 5,000 people had applied to have their records changed to reflect the new law. And in San Francisco, there have been 23 petitions for dismissal or reduction of sentences since the passage of Proposition 64.
But these numbers are only slim fraction of the number of people who could be eligible. Laura Thomas, deputy state director for Drug Policy Alliance, the pro-marijuana organization, estimates that at least 100,000 people could qualify to have their records changed.
These developments, however, do not affect federal law, which still makes pot illegal. Taking the opposite direction instead, the U.S. Justice Department had announced earlier in the year that it was halting its previous hands-off approach toward states legalization of marijuana. How this will affect states like California remains uncertain.