(TNS) — A yearlong effort to expunge marijuana-related convictions in San Francisco has been completed, with more than 9,300 crimes removed from people’s records, prosecutors announced Monday.
Given that recreational marijuana is now legal in California and that the war on drugs has had a disproportionate effect on minorities, District Attorney George Gascon said his office’s effort is aimed at removing barriers a criminal conviction poses for individuals long after they’ve served their sentence.
In an announcement last year, Gascon said his office would review every marijuana-related conviction to find ones eligible for expungement under Proposition 64, passed by voters in 2016. Though individuals can request expungements themselves, the process is known to be difficult to navigate and relatively few attempt it.
Gascon’s office initially began the expungement process by hand and found about 1,000 cases to clear, but then teamed up with Code for America, a national nonprofit that uses technology to make government more efficient.
Coders there created an algorithm that combed through San Francisco’s digitized criminal records going back to 1975 in just minutes.
The program automatically fills out the required forms and generates a completed motion in PDF format. The district attorney’s office can then file the completed motion with the court.
After about a year of work, Gascon announced on Monday they’d found 9,362 cases that were eligible to be expunged. All that’s left to be done is for the courts to process the requests, he said.
“It was the morally right thing to do,” he said. “If you have a felony conviction, you are automatically excluded in so many ways from participating in your community.”
Limitations that some people encounter after they’ve served their sentences are less well known, Gascon said, like barriers to education, housing, employment and even being barred from a child’s school field trip because of a conviction.
Proposition 64 legalized, among other things, the possession and purchase of up to an ounce of marijuana and allowed individuals to grow up to six plants for personal use. The measure also allowed people convicted of marijuana possession to petition the courts to have those convictions expunged as long as the person does not pose a risk to public safety. People also can petition to have some crimes reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, including possession of more than an ounce of marijuana by a person who is 18 or older.
“This isn’t a political thing. This is about dignity. People pay their debt to society. People pay the consequences for something we no longer consider a crime,” he said. “They should not be jumping through hoops for this. They should just get it.”