San Francisco- The City of San Francisco will be clearing thousands of previous criminal convictions for marijuana-related charges. Yesterday, District Attorney George Gascón announced a plan to expunge or reduce misdemeanor and felony convictions dating back to 1975.
Gascón’s plan should open up opportunities for those with marijuana convictions on their record who are seeking a chance to work in the marijuana industry.
The move reflects a provision from Proposition 64, the ballot initiative passed by voters in November 2016 that legalized recreational marijuana. Under Prop. 64, adults 21 and older can possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It also granted individuals the right to petition courts to reduce or throw out convictions for marijuana crimes that would either be a lower charge or not a crime at all today.
Gascón and San Francisco authorities have decided to wipe out the convictions in one sweeping move. This should save money on attorney fees for those seeking to clear their records and will ensure that those who cannot afford an attorney are still able to remove the charges. It should also save the city money on court-related fees for hearing the individuals cases.
The DA’s office plans to dismiss approximately 3,000 misdemeanor convictions. They will also review and possibly resentence 4,940 felony cases.
“Instead of waiting for people to petition — for the community to come out — we have decided that we will do so ourselves,” Gascón said. “We believe it is the right thing to do. We believe it is the just thing to do.”
Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, was pleased at the announcement.
“This is a giant step for justice,” Brown said according to SF Gate. “And it is a step toward setting black people free to live in the community, to have jobs, to have health care, to have a decent education, and we just need to keep this good thing a-rollin’.”
Having a criminal record is often a roadblock for those looking to enter the marijuana industry. In many cases, licenses to operate, grow, or transport marijuana will not be issued to those with a criminal history.
This is problematic for several reasons. For one, since legalized marijuana is fairly new, most growers had to acquire their knowledge and skills when marijuana was still illegal. Second, marijuana arrests disproportionately target non-whites, making equal opportunity for those looking to enter the industry difficult.
Despite similar levels of marijuana use, an American Civil Liberties Union study released in 2013 found that African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites.