San Diego District Attorney Moving to Dismiss, Reduce Marijuana Convictions

Under a “little-noticed provision” on Proposition 64, the voter-approved law legalizing recreational marijuana, California residents with marijuana convictions may be eligible to have those felonies and misdemeanors reduced or, in many cases, fully expunged off their criminal records, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. According to the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, the city has proactively expunged 700 criminal records since the law came into effect at the beginning of the year and released 55 people incarcerated because of marijuana. The city still has 4,000 cases awaiting action by the courts.

For California residents who have been impacted the most severely by their marijuana convictions, so-called “high priority” convictions, the public defender’s office and district attorney’s office have moved aggressively and quickly to expunge the records. These include California residents who have marijuana convictions preventing them from gaining employment or limiting their access to government benefits or housing.

According to Summer Stephan, interim district attorney for San Diego, “We want to be pro-active. It’s clear to us that the law was written to allow this relief, and it’s important that we give full effect to the will of the people, especially for those who are most immediately affected.”

The problem, according to the San Diego public defender, is that there is no unified system for identifying marijuana-related convictions. The current database only goes back to the early 2000s, therefore, individuals with marijuana convictions in California may need to proactively petition the courts for an expungement. “It won’t happen overnight, but we are committed to seeking relief for everybody who is entitled,” said Angie Bartosik, chief deputy primary public defender. Bartosik noted that for those seeking relief under Proposition 64, there is a form available online at courts.ca.gov and, for most, filling out the form will be sufficient to expunge their records.

Effectively expunging all marijuana convictions is a statewide problem. Only 5,000 Californians have sought to have their marijuana convictions removed from their records, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Considering the fact that there were more than 500,000 people arrested for marijuana just between 2006 and 2015, this means that hundreds of thousands or more Californians are likely eligible. In San Francisco, where only 20 people have filed petitions for expungement, district attorney George Gascon announced that the city will proactively search and expunge all marijuana convictions dating back to 1975. The San Francisco DA estimates that this would include over 3,000 misdemeanors and almost 5,000 felony convictions.

Proposition 64, which passed with 57% of the vote in November 2016, legalized marijuana and decreased the punishment for marijuana-related crimes. California residents with marijuana convictions under the old laws may be eligible for a retroactive reduction or expungement of their crime, depending on the severity and the age when the Californian was convicted of the crime. Some exceptions in the law exist for sex offenders and individuals with multiple, repeat convictions and a history of violent crimes. For most California residents, their former felonies will now be reduced to misdemeanors and those with misdemeanors will have their conviction reduced to a civil infraction, on the same level as a traffic violation.