By Paul Elias, Associated Press
(AP) — Over 8,000 marijuana-related convictions were erased or reduced using a technological approach that prosecutors nationwide should adopt to address a growing backlog of criminal cases eligible for modification, San Francisco’s district attorney announced Monday.
San Francisco is the first California county to announce full compliance with the state’s broad legalization of marijuana that also made an estimated 200,000 past pot convictions eligible for erasure or reduction.
When voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016 to allow adult use of marijuana, they also eliminated several pot-related crimes. The proposition also applied retroactively, but provided no mechanism or guidance on how those eligible could erase their convictions or have felonies reduced to misdemeanors.
A few hundred people hired attorneys, paid court fees and filed petitions to modify their records since November 2016, but the vast majority of convictions still remain untouched.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon credited the nonprofit technology organization Code for America for solving the biggest hurdle to identifying eligible cases dating back decades.
In May, when Gascon announced a partnership with Code for America, his office managed to identify and dismiss a little more 1,000 eligible misdemeanor cases. Since then, an additional 8,132 cases have been identified. Gascon said a total of 9,300 cases dating back to 1975 will be dropped or reduced without cost, active participation and, in many cases, the knowledge of the defendants.
In December, Michigan became the latest state to broadly legalize marijuana, eliminate pot crimes and allow past convictions to be erased or reduced. Meanwhile, prosecutors in Baltimore, Seattle, Chicago and multiple others across the country followed Gascon’s lead and announced their intentions to clear eligible marijuana convictions in their jurisdictions.
“I want to continue to evangelize, if you will, to get others around the country and the state to do the same things and push the envelope to continue to reduce the impacts of criminal convictions when we can,” Gascon said.
Gascon and Pahlka called on prosecutors across the country to adopt Code for America’s technology.