When California legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, many voters could clearly recognize the benefits. People would no longer be penalized after being caught possessing the medicinal plant and California could begin moving towards reducing the strain on its prison system. No longer will minor marijuana-related arrests be contributing to prison overcrowding.
Many forget that while recreational marijuana is now legal in the state, there are still thousands of Californians imprisoned for what is now a legal substance. To help combat this, the city of San Francisco announced on January 31, 2018 that it will retroactively apply California’s new cannabis law to previous cases.
How Many Convictions Will Be Overturned
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced Wednesday that he expects thousands of misdemeanor and felony convictions to be shortened or overturned completely. Gascón mentioned that some of the convictions that will be affected under this law date as far back as 1975. Gascón said that his office expects to review and alter the conviction in over 3,000 cases.
By undertaking this groundbreaking endeavor, San Francisco will significantly alter the lives of many of the 3,000 convicted for cannabis-related crimes, most of whom are unable to apply for various jobs or recieve certain government benefits. Some with felony marijuana convictions will be eligible to vote if their convictions are overturned. Those whose convictions are expunged will once again be granted the privileges of non-criminal California citizens.
San Francisco Is Leading By Example
Proposition 64, which passed easily in 2016, legalized recreational cannabis for people 21 and over and also legalized the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis. Another major piece of the Prop 64 legislation is that it allows cannabis-related convicts to petition courts to recall their case. While this provides many with a route towards freedom and clearing their record, the process of appealing a conviction can be exhaustive and lengthy. As District Attorney Gascón said, “Instead of waiting for people to petition – for the community to come out – we have decided that we will do so ourselves.” He elaborated, “We believe it is the right thing to do. We believe it is the just thing to do.”
By taking the initiative to review all past cannabis cases, the city of San Francisco and it’s DA office will speed up the process and quickly have many convictions off the books. The expedited nature of what San Francisco is attempting is appealing and is why some, like California Assembly-member Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), believe the entire state of California should implement some of the same review processes.
San Francisco is attempting a massive undertaking by being the first city since Proposition 64 passed in 2016 to release those convicted for non-violent crimes related to simple marijuana possession. Only time will tell how this strategy works out. If they are successful, expect other California cities to follow in San Francisco’s footsteps.
Lane is based in Southern California and is a content curator for Medical Marijuana 411. He focuses his research into finding informative stories that can help medical marijuana patients better understand their diverse medicine.