San Francisco To Expunge Over 9,000 Old Marijuana Convictions Now That It’s Legal There

According to an article in HuffPost, the city of San Francisco is on track to expunge over 9,000 convictions for past marijuana offenses as part of the 2016 state law that legalized the plant’s use for recreational purposes. Under California’s Proposition 64, which made marijuana made legal for adult recreational consumption, legal authorities were also granted the ability to clear any past convictions related to marijuana off of people’s records. And on Monday, San Francisco’s District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office will be expunging the records of some 9,362 past convictions.

The daunting process of combing through the entirety of the conviction records of the 13th-most populous city in the U.S. with nearly 900,000 residents and belonging to a metro region that is home to nearly 10 million people was made easier with the help of an algorithm built through a partnership with Code for America.

Code for America is a non-partisan, non-political organization created to help bridge the gap between the public and private sector in terms of ability to use technology effectively. The group bills itself as “working toward a government by the people, for the people that works in the 21st century,” according to its website. As of Monday, the coders had built an algorithm they dubbed “Clear My Record” that identifies cases that are eligible to be expunged under the Prop 64 law change.

Out of the 9,362 marijuana convictions that will be cleared, 5,594 are felonies. Gascón emphasized that clearing the records of so many people has the potential to truly change lives. For instance, moving forward those 5,594 people will no longer have to check the box on a job application that says they are a convicted felon, which often proves to be an impediment when it comes to gaining employment. It could also have a positive impact on the lives of the family members of the now-cleared former felons.

“What we’re talking about is offering people an opportunity to get housing, to get education, to get employment,” Gascón said in a statement.

“Felony convictions often, even if you’re a parent… may preclude you from participating in school activities with your kids.”

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Woman on Venice Beach in marijuana shirt.

Although the law has allowed convicted marijuana offenders to apply on their own to have their records expunged, the process is so opaque and difficult to navigate that only 23 people have thus far succeeded on their own.

The issue of marijuana legalization is already on the national radar in advance of the 2020 presidential election, and with a California spin as well, with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announcing her candidacy. Harris, who served as the District Attorney for San Francisco herself before going on to become California’s Attorney General and then Senator, has already fallen under the scrutiny of progressive activists on the subject of cannabis. Some are suspicious of Harris’ 11th -hour change of heart on the issue of legalization, an announcement she only recently confirmed. As San Francisco’s D.A. and as the state’s A.G., Harris opposed legalization. In 2018 she did co-sponsor a bill that would take marijuana off Schedule I of the U.S. Controlled Substance Act.