Thanks to legalization in California, those who have been convicted of marijuana crimes can now clear their records.
In San Francisco, marijuana convicts don’t even have to do anything. According to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, more than 3,000 misdemeanor convictions dating back to 1975 will be dismissed without any necessary action from those who were convicted. Moreover, prosecutors are reviewing nearly 5,000 felony convictions to consider reducing them to misdemeanors.
San Francisco is ahead of the curve, as the D.A.’s office has taken the task upon itself without the marijuana convicts first having to petition to have their records reduced or cleaned. Within the first month of the year, fewer than two dozen people had filed petitions — when thousands have been eligible to. Nonetheless, it’s costly and time consuming to file a petition, and requires jumping through bureaucratic hoops and paying attorneys’ fees.
“While drug policy on the federal level is going backwards, San Francisco is once again taking the lead to undo the damage that this country’s disastrous, failed drug war has had on our nation and on communities of color in particular,” Gascon said in a statement. “Long ago we lost our ability to distinguish the dangerous from the nuisance, and it has broken our pocket books, the fabric of our communities, and we are no safer for it. While this relief is already available pursuant to Proposition 64 for anyone with a conviction, it requires that they know it is available and to retain an attorney to file the expungement paperwork.” Gascon said he recognizes that a criminal conviction can be a barrier to employment, housing and other benefits.
This is also Gascon’s way of reducing the racially disproportionate effects of the drug war. In 2011, African Americans made up half of San Francisco’s cannabis arrests, but only six percent of the city’s population.
“This example, one of many across our state, underscores the true promise of Proposition 64 – providing new hope and opportunities to Californians, primarily people of color, whose lives were long ago derailed by a costly, broken and racially discriminatory system of marijuana criminalization,” said Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. “This isn’t just an urgent issue of social justice here in California – it’s a model for the rest of the nation.”