University Times

Major Overturns to Marijuana Convictions

As San Francisco County prepares to review marijuana charges, thousands are expected to overturn.

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Jordan Hansen, Contributor

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San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascón, has announced that over 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions in San Francisco county will be overturned. The statement from the District Attorney’s (DA) office given on Jan. 31st also announced that nearly 5,000 felony marijuana convictions will be reviewed, with many offenses expected to be reduced to misdemeanors.

The decision was made in response to the passing of California Proposition 64 in Nov. 2016, which legalized the use of recreational marijuana for those over 21 years of age.

The announcement is likely to have a far-reaching impact on minority groups, who have traditionally been overrepresented in marijuana-related crime figures. According to the San Francisco Cannabis Equity Report, African-Americans accounted for roughly 50 percent of all cannabis arrests made in the city between 2010 and 2017, despite only making up 6 percent of the population. The District Attorney hopes that the decision will amend these racial inequalities.

“San Francisco is once again taking the lead to undo the damage that this country’s disastrous, failed drug war has had on our nation and on communities of color in particular,” said Gascón.

Gascón also said that all misdemeanor marijuana convictions which dated back to 1975 will be automatically rescinded, with no action required on the part of the offender. This goes beyond requirements set out in Prop. 64, which only allowed anyone convicted of marijuana-related offenses in California to apply for a review of their conviction.

According to Gascón, the decision to automatically overturn convictions will benefit those who do not have access to an attorney; a group likely to be represented by members of mostly impoverished minority communities.

“While this relief is already available pursuant to Proposition 64 for anyone with a conviction, it requires that they know it is available and to retain an attorney to file the expungement paperwork,” he said. “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.”

Under the new guidelines, felony convictions will be subject to automatic review and may be reclassified as misdemeanor offenses on the condition that the original conviction did not include certain aggravating factors. The DA’s Office also indicated that anyone currently serving a sentence for a marijuana-related offense could be released, provided there is no risk to public safety.

LA Superior Court Judge, Joel Lofton, spoke to the University Times. He believes that automatically overturning marijuana convictions will benefit those on probation or parole the most, rather than those currently imprisoned:

“Overturning convictions will have the greatest impact on taking people off the rolls of probation and parole,” he said. “It will also help with allowing people convicted of marijuana related offences to rid themselves of the stigma and encumbrances of those convictions; difficulties in obtaining student loans, voting and employment, for instance.”

Judge Lofton additionally stated his belief that other counties will soon begin to automatically overturn marijuana convictions. However, Los Angeles County DA, Jackie Lacey, maintains that those convicted in LA County will still have to proactively appeal the conviction.

“There were 40,000 felony convictions involving marijuana since 1993,” she said. “We cannot determine at this time how many of these cases involve people who no longer require their criminal records to be stricken.”

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Major Overturns to Marijuana Convictions