It has been said the marijuana legalization discussion only ends once the record of every person every convicted for a pot-related crime is wiped clean. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón seems to understand that this is an essential next step of the post-legalization movement. He announced earlier this week that his office would expunge more than 9,000 marijuana convictions.
It was just last year that Gascón teamed up with Code For America to employ the use of technology to efficiently determine which of the city’s pot offenders qualified for expungement under the language of Proposition 64. Essentially, his office used a computer program called “Clear My Record” to scour thousands of pot convictions – some of which go back as far as 1975 – setting aside the misdemeanors for clearance. A judge will start making these expungements official in the next few weeks.
“It was the morally right thing to do,” Gascón told the Los Angeles Times. “If you have a felony conviction, you are automatically excluded in so many ways from participating in your community.”
San Francisco is the first municipality in California to take this robotic approach to the expungement clause in the state’s marijuana law. In most cases, people with pot convictions have to go through a burdensome affair before their stoner sins of the past can be absolved. It’s a tedious process, Gascón said in an interview with NPR, which is the main reason that not even 30 people had taken the leap to get their records cleared ahead of the city’s mass expungement campaign.
“You have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing,” Gascón explained. “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.”
Although people convicted of a misdemeanor pot crime may have never had to serve time in jail, a record marred with a drug offense, in many cases, can disqualify them from employment opportunities, college loans and housing. It’s just enough to keep otherwise law-abiding citizens from bettering themselves.
San Francisco’s leap on the expungement issue has reportedly forced other district attorneys around the state to consider a similar approach. The Code For America program could clear up to a quarter of a million marijuana convictions in California before the end of next year.
“What we have shown with marijuana is that this can be done en masse,” Gascón told the San Francisco Chronicle. “You can just go through the criminal records of thousands of people and provide the relief that they qualify for without having to have a lot of human resources invested in it.”