POLITICS

San Francisco Wiping Out More Than 9,000 Old Marijuana Convictions

The unprecedented move was made possible by a special computer algorithm.

San Francisco is set to make history as the first U.S. city to expunge all past marijuana convictions under a state law legalizing recreational use of the drug. 

District Attorney George Gascón announced Monday that his office will wipe out more than 9,000 marijuana-related convictions under the 2016 passage of Proposition 64, which legalized recreational pot usage in California and allowed authorities to clear past marijuana-related convictions from people’s records.

The laborious expungement process was made possible through a partnership with Code for America that Gascón announced last year. As of Monday, the team had finished using the group’s “Clear My Record” algorithm to identify cases eligible under Prop 64, which took full effect in 2018.

Of the 9,362 total people affected by Gascón’s announcement, 5,594 will no longer have felonies on their records. Reducing those convictions, he stressed, will dismantle the roadblocks faced by people who, in job applications or other instances, must disclose felony convictions.

“What we’re talking about is offering people an opportunity to get housing, to get education, to get employment,” he said at a press conference Monday. “Felony convictions often, even if you’re a parent... may preclude you from participating in school activities with your kids,” he said.

He noted that marijuana-relations convictions disproportionately affect low-income residents and people of color.

Gascón said that in the coming weeks his office will present the thousands of cases to a judge to finalize the expungements. 

Though people have been able to petition to have their records amended under Prop 64, the process of doing so is so tedious and time-consuming that only 23 eligible people in San Francisco had taken the initiative.

The city’s move comes as legal pot advocates anticipate a slowdown in legalization crackdowns by President Donald Trump’s administration. Though marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I drug under federal law ― putting it on equal standing with heroin, ecstasy and other harder substances ― new Attorney General William Barr has vowed to discontinue the crackdown his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, had pushed for. 

The issue has already emerged as an issue in the 2020 presidential election. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who recently announced her candidacy for the White House, said she supported legalizing the drug, reversing course on the position she once held as San Francisco’s district attorney. 

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