Cannabis advocacy is changing. It is no longer just about getting the cannabis plant sprung from the clutches of prohibition, it is about ensuring that all of those people arrested for marijuana possession over the past few decades are finally declared innocent and allowed to exist in a society where they are not discriminated against because of a measly drug offense on their records.
Fortunately, California officials are proving to be the most progressive in the nation with respect to pushing this concept. Tens of thousands of marijuana convictions are set to be cleared in Los Angeles and San Joaquin counties, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.
It is the latest move by a growing number of the state’s municipalities that are doing their part to help people with cannabis blemishes on their records get absolved by the courts.
The most significant social reprieve is happening in Los Angeles, where prosecutors say they will clean 50,000 marijuana convictions in the coming weeks. Another 4,000 of them will occur in San Joaquin County.
If the situation is anywhere close to other cities that have taken this action, some of those convictions could stretch back as far as the 1970s – back when President Nixon first unleashed the dogs of the drug war on the people in a bid that, according to an interview with one of his top advisors, was done as a means to target hippies and blacks.
As far as the Golden State is concerned, that nonsense ends now. With the help of Code For America, which designed a piece of software that identifies expungement candidates, a number of municipalities are knocking out pot convictions as swiftly as possible.
“This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing the mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement. “Helping to clear that path by reducing or dismissing cannabis convictions can result in someone securing a job or benefiting from other programs that may have been unavailable to them in the past.”
San Francisco was the first metropolitan area in the state to take it upon itself to forgive small-time marijuana convictions. Although the language of Proposition 64 gives people with pot convictions the freedom to petition the courts to get them cleared, the process is not exactly the easiest to navigate.
So, District Attorney George Gascón identified pot offenders from around the city that qualified for the expungement program and is now in the process of wiping them clean. It’s a good thing, too. Before the city’s announced that it would clear some 9,000 convictions, only 30 people had taken the initiative to do it on their own.
“You have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing,” Gascón told NPR. “It’s a very expensive and very cumbersome process. And the reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally, were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney.”
While there is no data presently available on those who qualify for the latest round of expungements, most of the research shows that Nixon’s plan to pull the Africa American community further into the abyss worked famously. Although roughly only 6 percent of California’s population consists of people of color, this group is responsible for the majority of those locked up for marijuana crimes, according to a study by New Frontier Data.
And while it is true that most pot possession cases do not result in prison time, the vibrations of those convictions can prevent people from job opportunities, housing and even a college education. It is for this reason that San Joaquin District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar feels it is time to stop the bleeding. She says the harms of these convictions are passed down “from generation to generation.”
“This allows us to go back and correct those mistakes,” she said.
But not everyone with a marijuana conviction will receive a second chance. The law states that anyone with a felony marijuana conviction can petition the courts to have it dropped down to a misdemeanor, but there are no guarantees. The decision of the court to entertain this option is on a case-by-case basis. Any pot-related crime that resulted in violence would surely be discounted.
Only those with low-level offenses are being put through the system to have their records cleared without having to take steps on their own. This means those convicted for marijuana possession under an ounce will likely be the first on the list.
It is conceivable that somewhere around a quarter of a million marijuana convictions could be cleared in California before the end of the year.
There is hope among the cannabis advocacy community that more states make this level of social justice reform part of their plan to legalize marijuana. After all, it is not enough to just say, “Okay, weed is legal now,” as long as there are people in the community that continue to be held back by old laws. Marijuana legalization really must become a much broader philosophy in the future if we, as a nation, stand a chance at adjusting the crooked spine that government officials from Nixon on down have entrained. Otherwise, there will always be undeserving casualties of prohibition.
TELL US, where do you hope marijuana convictions will be cleared next?