San Francisco DA Announces He’ll Wipe Out Thousands of Pre-Legalization Marijuana Convictions

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A cloud of smoke rests over the heads of a group of people during a 420 Day celebration on "Hippie Hill" in Golden Gate Park April 20, 2010, in San Francisco. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A cloud of smoke rests over the heads of a group of people during a 420 Day celebration on “Hippie Hill” in Golden Gate Park April 20, 2010, in San Francisco. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Officials in San Francisco are going to look into thousands of marijuana cases dating back to 1975 and retroactively apply the new California law legalizing recreational cannabis possession, District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday.

That means, for people who had a marijuana-related conviction in San Francisco during the past 40-plus years, there’s a good chance it will be removed from their records or be downgraded.

The new law issued in under Proposition 64 allows people whose past crimes would now not be penalized in the same way to petition to have their convictions overturned or reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

But Gascón said his office is going to be proactive and do the legwork for the people affected.

“We have an opportunity to lead the way (statewide and nationally),” he said.

There are 3,038 misdemeanor marijuana crimes that will be expunged, he told reporters. Another 4,940 felony cases need to be reviewed to see which ones qualify to be reduced to a misdemeanor. Murderers and rapists, for instance, would not be eligible, Gascón said.

“What we want to make sure is … that people who were really the victims of the war on drugs, in general terms, and are people that are trying to get their lives in the right direction, that they get relief they deserve,” he said. “We have damaged a lot of people in our community.”

Statewide about 4,900 Californians have filed petitions asking to have their records wiped of cannabis convictions. In San Francisco the number is about 23, Gascón said.

Gascón said no one in San Francisco will have to pay for an attorney, take off work to attend court, or file time-consuming paperwork.

Officials who attended the DA’s news conference praised the decision, saying the number of marijuana arrests disproportionately affected minorities. The convictions make it more difficult for people to get jobs, loans or places to live, they said.

Amos C. Brown of the NAACP’s San Francisco office said the district’s attorney’s decision will help African-Americans “who’ve been the victims of an unjust criminal justice system, denied equality of opportunity” and had their humanity disrespected.

Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy organization that says people should not be punished for what they put in their bodies, said applying the law retroactively is very important.

“It doesn’t feel like justice to change the laws for some people and leave other people in jail cells,” she said.

There are no misdemeanor cases in the courts now, Gascón said.

He believes that people curious about the status of their cases will be able to go to the DA’s website to see whether there has been a change. Misdemeanors will be easier to expunge, Gascón said. Felony cases will involve more time.

“I think within a year our work will be done,” Gascón said.

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