People convicted of cannabis crimes during decades of cannabis prohibition in California won’t ever get back the time many of them spent in jail for using the plant. But by next week, tens of thousands of people in Los Angeles will get the next best thing.
L.A. District Attorney George Gascón announced this week that county prosecutors will dismiss nearly 58,000 felony and misdemeanor cannabis convictions identified for expungement by local nonprofit The Social Impact Center. The cases include a significant percent of felony convictions for cannabis cultivation and misdemeanor charges of possession and use of the plant.
That’s according to Felicia Carbajal, executive director of the Social Impact Center, who said the time was “long due” to absolve the old marijuana crimes.
“While it’s a terrible tragedy that these people had to spend time behind bars and even see their chances at getting jobs affected by cannabis use, we hope that expunging these records will give them a new lease on life,” Carbajal said. “We have worked on this for years and I am grateful that we can now make it happen.”
California voters approved recreational marijuana in 2016 via Prop 64. The petition also set up a framework for the state’s the judicial system to expunge previous marijuana crimes.
The California Legislature made good on its promise in 2018 by passing AB 1793 to mandate that the state’s justice department comb through crime records for past cannabis convictions and remove them. Eligible crimes are generally those for cannabis-related actions that are now legal in the state’s recreational marijuana market.
This week’s announcement follows similar action taken by the district attorney’s office last year. Los Angeles county officials in February 2020 dismissed about 66,000 previous cannabis convictions. Nearly half of the people whose cases were dismissed are Latino, one-third are black, and 20 percent are white. The combined total of expungements will exceed 123,000, but a demographic breakdown was not immediately made available for the upcoming dismissals.
Because it’s possible for a person to have more than one cannabis conviction dismissed, the district attorney’s office did not immediately specify how many people will be affected by next week’s action. The 66,000 cases dismissed last year covered about 53,000 people, officials said.
CNN reported that California officials in 2018 estimated more than 218,000 total cannabis convictions across the state could eventually be dismissed.