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SF to reverse ‘war on drugs’ pot convictions

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon Wednesday said that his office has begun working to expunge the records of people convicted of marijuana-related offenses.

Around 3,038 misdemeanor convictions dating back to 1975 will be dismissed and sealed automatically, Gascon said.

An additional 4,940 felony marijuana convictions will be reviewed to determine if they qualify for possible reduction and resentencing.

Proposition 64, the 2016 state ballot measure that legalized the possession of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, includes a provision allowing people with past marijuana convictions to petition the court for reduction or dismissal of old convictions.

However, that process can be expensive and time-consuming, requiring a lawyer and court hearings. The process launched in San Francisco will not require any action on the part of those who are eligible.

Gascon said he hopes that other district attorneys will follow his lead and take the initiative to review and dismiss or reduce past convictions. While state legislation that would require such action is currently being developed, Gascon said there was no need to wait:

“A criminal conviction can be a barrier to employment, housing and other benefits, so instead of waiting for the community to take action, we’re taking action for the community. … We believe that it’s the right thing to do and the just thing to do.”

Enforcement of cannabis laws has had a disproportionate impact on black and Latino communities over the years. In San Francisco, black people have typically made up 40 to 50 percent of all cannabis arrests since 2000, according to city figures.

Supervisor Malia Cohen said the effort to expunge convictions was a case of San Francisco living up to its progressive values, and went hand in hand with efforts to ensure that those with marijuana-related convictions would be able to work in the city’s budding cannabis industry.

Cohen said:

“There are thousands of cases that are going to be dismissed at no cost. … That means those people who have been most affected by the war on drugs get a little bit of a break.”

California law enforcement made an estimated 2.75 million cannabis arrests between 1915 and 2016. However, only 4,885 people statewide have petitioned courts to have their convictions expunged since Prop 64 was passed.


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