By Robert D. Finkle
Ever since California voters passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in 2016, the majority of the focus has been on the monumental task of regulating California’s billion dollar black market cannabis industry. However, Prop 64 as its popularly known, also included language that provided for the reduction or elimination of hundreds of thousands of cannabis-related convictions going back over 30+ years. Reducing and eliminating criminal convictions was viewed as an important first step in addressing the harm suffered by people caught up in the war on cannabis. For many, a cannabis conviction meant they could not obtain desired employment, loans for college education, or be able to vote or own a firearm. Others were still serving jail sentences or probation, or paying off hefty fines levied upon them for possession a substance that was now legal for all California adults over the age of 21.
While Prop 64 created the ability to reduce or eliminate cannabis convictions, it did not create a mandate or apparent pathway to achieve the intended results. Moreover, no funds were specifically allocated to assist local jurisdictions with the task of identifying and processing the reductions. Driven individuals could retain the services of an attorney or even petition the courts on their own using the forms created by the
California Judicial Council however, many folks were either unaware of the new law or unable to take advantage of its benefits. Enter San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and tech-based civil rights advocacy group Code for America. Together they developed the technology that helped identify over 8,000 people with cannabis convictions in San Francisco that were eligible to take advantage of Prop 64. Mr. Gascon’s office is now taking affirmative steps to retroactively dismiss cannabis convictions dating back to 1975.
While San Francisco is leading the charge, many other jurisdictions have also taken steps to assist people hoping to take advantage of Prop 64. For instance Alameda County, which includes the City of Oakland, has created a
“clean slate” web page where people can obtain information regarding resentencing. Anyone interested in obtaining relief from cannabis convictions under Prop 64 should contact the District Attorney’s office in the County where they were convicted. Anyone who is uncertain as to whether they have a conviction that can be reduced, or in which jurisdiction they were convicted, can obtain their criminal records from the California Department of Justice.