As cannabis legalization spreads across the country, the cry from activists to review past marijuana convictions has never been higher. Cities like San Francisco and Seattle have answered the call, moving to erase past marijuana convictions in a move that has been labeled as “restorative justice.”
When Californians moved to legalize recreational cannabis with Prop 64 two years ago, it also opened the door for individuals to petition past marijuana-related misdemeanors and have them either dismissed or reduced. San Francisco’s act was radical because the city took ownership of its checkered history with marijuana-related arrests, and dismissed cases without those affected sinking any resources into the effort.
Now the entire state of California looks to follow that examples. This week, the California Senate passed legislation that would require its Justice Department to comb past marijuana convictions from 1975 to 2016 and examine whether they should be expunged or reduced. The bill, AB-1793, passed in a 22-8 bipartisan vote, though it still needs Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
Once the state’s Department of Justice releases its findings, it’s up to county prosecutors who make the final call if dismissing or downgrading a conviction is appropriate. Their decision has a deadline of July 1, 2020. However, prosecutors can also challenge the DOJ’s conclusions, contesting if a past convict “does not meet the eligibility requirements or presents an unreasonable risk to public safety.”
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This will require a lot of work, undoubtedly. According to estimates, there are a possible 218,000 convictions that will be eligible to be erased or demoted from felony to misdemeanor. Scott Wiener, a co-sponsor of the bill, said during the floor debate that this legislation “creates a simpler pathway for Californians to turn the page,” according to the Los Angeles Times.