San Francisco to Expunge More than 9,000 Marijuana Convictions

San Francisco prosecutors plan to expunge more than 9,000 marijuana convictions dating back to 1975, law enforcement officials announced Monday.

District Attorney George Gascón announced last year that his office would retroactively expunge prior cannabis convictions for qualified individuals. What’s interesting, however, is Gascon’s using software to help accomplish the job as expediently as possible.

“If you have a felony conviction, you are automatically excluded in so many ways from participating in your community,” Gascón recently stated in a press release. “Prosecutors should act to address the inherent unfairness of penalizing people for activity that is no longer illegal. Using technology, we have been able to proactively bring greater racial equity and fairness to marijuana legalization in California. I am thrilled to see other counties and states following suit by offering similar relief in their communities. It’s the right thing to do.”

Gascon’s office initially began the expungement process by hand and found about 1,000 cases to clear, but then teamed up with Code for America, a national nonprofit that uses technology to make government more efficient. The group has created an algorithm to identify eligible cases and streamline their expungements. So far fourteen counties across California have partnered with Code for America and their Clear My Record software. Rather than having individuals submit their own petitions this technology automatically evaluates eligibility for convictions by reading and interpreting conviction data and can evaluate the eligibility of thousands of convictions in minutes.

As the “war on drugs” continues to fail California has become a leader in criminal justice reform, including reducing sentences for lower-level crimes and pushing for rehab instead of incarceration for some drug offenses. Clearing pot convictions is an essential next step.

Everyone’s marijuana conviction is eligible to be expunged, regardless of whether it’s tied to other criminal offenses, Gascon’s office said Monday. Officials had initially stated it was for standalone marijuana convictions but have since corrected their statement.

Gascón, who is not seeking a third term in office, said his ambition is to show what Code for America’s algorithm did in San Francisco and take that approach statewide.

“We’re beginning to separate those that can’t from those that won’t, because no longer can you say ‘I can’t do it,’ ” he also said in the press release.

It could go a long way to helping California with Assembly Bill 1793, signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown last year. The bill mandated the state build a list of all Californians eligible to have crimes expunged under Prop 64 by July 1, with the goal of having all past marijuana-related crimes reduced or cleared in the state by 2020.

Code for America plans to expand the pilot program to other California counties with the target of clearing 250,000 convictions by the end of the year. The organization has previously delved into the realm of criminal justice. In 2016, it created Clear My Record, an online application that connects people with lawyers to clear criminal records across California.

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