The California state legislature approved bill AB 1793 on Wednesday that requires prosecutors to overturn or reduce tens of thousands of marijuana criminal convictions. Governor Jerry Brown is now set to sign the bill, which was introduced by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D), and passed the state senate with a bi-partisan vote of 22-8.
Bakersfield Now reports that the new bill is the latest in a series of legal developments going back to 2016, when California voters passed Proposition 64 to legalize adult marijuana use. Proposition 64 also eliminated several marijuana crimes and applied retroactively to related convictions. However, the proposition did not explicitly lay out how eligible convicts could erase their convictions or reduce them from felonies to misdemeanors. The new bill approved Wednesday now provides those steps.
According to the bill, California's Department of Justice is now ordered to identify eligible convictions between 1975 and 2016, and to notify prosecutors by July 1, 2019. Then, prosecutors have until July 1, 2020 to decide which of those cases they want to challenge. The state estimates that around 220,000 cases are eligible for erasure or reduction with the new bill.
Since the passing of Proposition 64, California district attorneys have said they did not have enough resources to conduct a review to identify eligible cases.The Los Angeles Times reports that many with marijuana convictions also did not know about the provision which allowed them to petition the courts to clear their records, according to state Senator Scott Wiener (D). The new bill aims to simplify this process. Assemblyman Bonta stated that "the role of government should be to ease burdens and expedite the operation of law — not create unneeded obstacles, barriers and delay." Under the new bill, priority will be given to those currently serving time in jail.
ABC News reports that non-violent felony convictions for possession or distribution of less than one ounce of marijuana are eligible for reduction to misdemeanors, but prosecutors will also take the person's entire criminal history into account.
State Republicans voiced their stances both for and against the bill. Senator Jim Nielsen (R) of Gerber, who opposed the bill, stated the following.
"This directs us to forget any prior behavior that was illegal. They should not be given a pass."State Senator Joel Anderson (R) pointed out that the bill will help save resources in restoring gun rights to those eligible for reductions to misdemeanors.
"This bill will take those people off the prohibited list, save us time and money," he said.