San Francisco expunges more than 9,000 marijuana convictions

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The city of San Francisco has announced that it has expunged more than 9,300 cannabis related convictions from as far back as 1975.

“This makes San Francisco the first county in the country to complete the automated marijuana record clearance process,” according to a statement released by the office of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

The expungement process for cannabis convictions is actually a law in California as stipulated by AB 1793, which is a part of proposition 64, the 2016 ballot initiative that legalized cannabis in the state. Since the law was passed, people have been allowed to petition their conviction, but that can often be a lengthy and expensive task.  

“You have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing,” said Gascón. “It’s a very expensive and very cumbersome process. And the reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally, were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney.”

The DA’s office has partnered with a charity called Code for America and used a new technology that quickly automates the process of going through past convictions and processing which ones should be sealed.

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“Using technology, we have been able to proactively bring greater racial equity and fairness to marijuana legalization in California,” said Gascón.

The DA’s office says that the amount of people incarcerated and who have been convicted because of minor marijuana offences is a result of the failed war on drugs that started in the early 1970s,  with a large percentage of those being ethnic minorities that have been negatively affected. In San Francisco alone, 33 percent of the expunged convictions were African Americans and 27 percent were Latin Americans.

“Contact with the criminal justice system should not be a life sentence, so we’ve been working to reimagine the record clearance process,” said Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America. “Our work asks how we can make government work better for the people it serves, and we are honored to partner with DA Gascon’s office to deliver relief to thousands who have been blocked from access to jobs, housing and other opportunities for so long,”

“This new approach, which is both innovative and common sense, changes the scale and speed of justice and has the potential to ignite change across the country.”

The conviction charges will be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor and from misdemeanor to an infraction.

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