In 2016, Californians voted “yes’” on Proposition 64, which decriminalized the personal possession and recreational use of small amounts of marijuana.Ca.gov, “Proposition 64 – The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” In September, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will require the state’s Department of Justice to review marijuana cases dating as far back as 1975 to determine if they are eligible for expungement—a move that would effectively remove the conviction from a person’s record.California AB 1793 (2018).
For people with existing marijuana records, expungement could reduce or eliminate the damaging effects of having a conviction history, thus opening up more opportunities for jobs, housing, and education.Lindsay Schnell, “Marijuana Reform: New California Law Gives People with Records a Do-over,” USA Today, October 2, 2018.
The department will have until July 1, 2019, to prepare a list of people eligible for expungement, with priority given to those currently serving time.California AB 1793 (2018). Also see Patrick McGreevy, “California Lawmakers Move to Help Expunge Pot-Related Convictions,” Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2018. The state’s district attorneys will then have a year from that date to challenge any of those cases. The Judicial Council of California estimates that at least 218,000 residents will benefit from the new law.Schnell, “Marijuana Reform,” 2018.
People convicted in San Francisco have a head start on those benefits, thanks to a method that District Attorney George Gascón hopes can serve as a template for other jurisdictions.Evan Sernoffsky, “SF District Attorney Uses Algorithm to Reduce Felony Marijuana Convictions,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 15, 2018. In May, Gascón’s office announced an innovative partnership with Code for America to design an automated system for identifying people whose marijuana cases are eligible for reclassification.Sernoffsky, “Algorithm to Reduce Felony Marijuana Convictions,” 2018. Using optical character recognition to search through old felony cases and an algorithm that maps the data from those cases against the requirements of Proposition 64, the new system can not only identify eligible criminal records, but also automatically prepare most of the paperwork necessary to have the charges reduced.Sernoffsky, “Algorithm to Reduce Felony Marijuana Convictions,” 2018.