Yesterday, the California State Legislature passed a bill that directs the State Department of Justice to evaluate all the cannabis conviction cases from 1975-2009 and provide a list of prisoners whose sentence can be expunged or reduced. The California expungement bill was sponsored by Assemblymember Rob Banta of Oakland and it gives the CDOJ until July 1, 2019 to provide qualifying cases.
Petition for Expungement
Rob Banta was outspoken about the issue declaring, “the role of government should be to ease burdens and expedite the operation of law — not create unneeded obstacles, barriers and delay.” The Drug Policy Alliance issued an estimate that some 500,000 people who were incarcerated for marijuana-related felonies and misdemeanors from 2006 to 2015, but only around 5,000 knew to petition to have their convictions expunged.
After Proposition 64 went into effect in 2016, and those with previous cannabis convictions were allowed to petition the court to expunge their record. Unfortunately this method has proved ineffective and slow at the very best. Senator Scott Wiener noted that the current petition process is complicated and many with conviction are unaware of this opportunity.
A Better Path Forward
Senator Wiener pointed this out during the floor debate on Wednesday saying that AB 1793, “creates a simpler pathway for Californians to turn the page.” Early estimates from the California Department of Justice say their maybe around 220,000 cannabis convictions that fall under the new California expungement bill.
The new law was supported by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Governor Jerry Brown will likely sign the bill in the next few days and make it official. The new system will give the DOJ a little less than a year to begin the process of clearing cannabis convictions, and those prisoners who are currently serving time will be given first priority.
The names will go to the state district attorney who originally dealt with the case, and they will have up to a year to challenge any expungement proceeding they deemed “an unreasonable risk to public safety.” This revolutionary law will provide felons with cannabis convictions a fresh start and many will likely enjoy their first legal marijuana purchase in a long time.