Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel

California AG Pushes for Cannabis Convictions Relief

Democratic California Attorney General Rob Bonta is urging prosecuting attorneys throughout the state to expedite their overdue processing of past marijuana convictions in order to allow eligible individuals to have their sentences reduced or removed and past records sealed from public view.

Proposition 64, which California voters passed in 2016 to legalize cannabis for adults, allowed people with certain prior convictions to petition the courts for relief. The plan rolled out inconsistently across the state with repeated delays, so lawmakers passed separate legislation to streamline the process in 2018.

Bonta, a state assembly member at the time, was that bill’s lead sponsor.

“Since this law went into effect,” he said this week, “tens of thousands of Californians have been able to turn the page and make a fresh start — but unfortunately there are still some who are waiting for relief. I urge counties to prioritize processing their records so that these Californians can finally get the relief they deserve.”

Prosecutors had until July of last year to review eligible cases and decide whether to challenge them, but some have still not forwarded necessary information to the courts, the attorney general’s office said.

A bulletin issued by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) on Bonta’s behalf says, as of Dec. 1, the department was “aware that there are some prosecuting agencies that have not provided a complete listing of cases to the court for processing.” That could prevent eligible defendants from seeing relief.

“In this event, the court may not have been able to ‘reduce or dismiss the conviction’ or subsequently ‘notify the department of the recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissing and sealing, or redesignation,’” as mandated by AB 1793, the DOJ bulletin says.

“If there is no challenge by the prosecution,” it says, “the law requires courts to automatically reduce or dismiss the conviction, and notify DOJ to modify the state summary criminal history information database.”

Don’t miss our 50 at 50 series: one current or former prisoner published a day until New Year’s Day 2022.

AB 1793 dictated the DOJ review cases going back more than four decades and identify instances where charges might not apply following legalization. Local prosecutors then had the chance to evaluate and potentially challenge the identified cases. If they chose not to, the records would be updated to remove the convictions, update sentences accordingly and seal the court records.

While sealing the records doesn’t erase them completely, it shields them from public view. Having a criminal record creates the potential for discrimination in housing, employment, education, financial services and other vital everyday needs.

“So many people don’t know that they’re eligible” for relief under the relatively new law, Felicia Carbajal, programming director for New Expungement Works said earlier this year. “I imagine a lot of the folks who have those convictions aren’t running to their local agencies to get this taken care of, nor are they taking it upon themselves to do it because it is arduous. It’s not an easy process if you’ve never filled out forms or if you’re operating from a space of trauma. Many times people from historically underserved communities get so overwhelmed when they’re put in these situations.”

This piece is part of a content-sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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