San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón says he will throw out more than 3,000 marijuana-related convictions made in San Francisco courts since 1975. Any charges that were before the state’s legalization of marijuana went into effect this year will be dismissed with no action necessary from those convicted. Prosecutors are also reviewing whether to reduce nearly 5,000 other drug convictions from felonies to misdemeanors. Those that don’t involve violence or other crimes may be thrown out on a case by case basis. Since 1975, nearly 8,000 people have been convicted of marijuana related crimes in San Francisco.
The announcement comes just weeks after California’s legalization of recreational marijuana use went into full effect with the new year. The move is allowed under the 2016 ballot measure that legalized recreational cannabis use in California. Prop. 64, the voter approved initiative that legalilized marijuana use in California, allows defendants to petition to have their convictions thrown out but the process requires lawyers, time and money.
Nearly 5,000 people in California have petitioned courts to have a marijuana conviction expunged since Prop. 64 took effect but there are millions of Californians with marijuana convictions on their record. San Francisco’s decision to retroactively apply Proposition 64 has been applauded as a massive “step forward”—one that must be replicated throughout California and in other states that have legalized marijuana in order to “truly repair the drug war’s harms.”
“A criminal conviction can be a barrier to employment, housing and other benefits, so instead of waiting for the community to take action, we’re taking action for the community,” Gascon said. Gascon’s office said there was racial motivation behind the decision-noting that in 2010-11, African-Americans represented six percent of San Francisco’s population but represented nearly half of marijuana arrests in the city.
The decision has the backing of the governor’s office as well. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom said “This example, one of many across our state, underscores the true promise of Proposition 64 – providing new hope and opportunities to Californians, primarily people of color, whose lives were long ago derailed by a costly, broken and racially discriminatory system of marijuana criminalization.” “This isn’t just an urgent issue of social justice here in California – it’s a model for the rest of the nation.”