San Francisco to wipe out more than 9K marijuana convictions

Marijuana plant. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Jennifer Martin

Feb. 26 (UPI) — San Francisco plans to expunge more than 9,000 marijuana-related convictions dating back to the 1970s, now that the substance is legal for recreational use.

City District Attorney George Gascón said his office was able to identify 9,362 eligible cases dating back to 1975 that can either be expunged or resentenced under Proposition 64.

The law allowed for legal possession, cultivation and use of marijuana for personal use in 2016 and for the sale and taxation last year.

Gascón worked with Code for America, a nonprofit focused on using open-source technology to improve government, to track down every eligible case under the new law.

“It’s incumbent that we, as law enforcement leaders, continue to evolve how we advance fairness and public safety in our respective communities,” Gascón said. “I hope that our success with Code for America can act as a catalyst for other leaders looking to engage in similar innovative and out-of-the-box methods to reform and rethink what our criminal justice system looks like.”

While Gascón said he will start to present cases in court in the coming weeks, some in law enforcement said they are skeptical.

“To simply embark on an across-the-board expungement of 9,300 without looking at any of the surrounding factors on any of those cases strikes us as cavalier irresponsibility,” John Lovell, legislative counsel to the California Narcotic Officers’ Association, told the Los Angeles Times.

Some have cheered the move, pointing to studies that show marijuana convictions disproportionately affect the poor and people of color and often lead to limited access to federal housing and loans.

“Contact with the criminal justice system should not be a life sentence, so we’ve been working to reimagine the record-clearance process,” Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America founder, said. “This new approach, which is both innovative and common sense, changes the scale and speed of justice.”

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which is considering a similar move, estimates about 40,000 felony convictions involving marijuana since 1993. Prosecutors have not yet said how many of those could be eligible.

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