- The most recent overturned convictions are added to the roughly 66,000 convictions identified in 2020 by District Attorney’s predecessor George Gascón.
- Prop 64 became law in California in 2016 and legalized recreational marijuana in the most populous state in the country.
- Eighteen states and Washington, DC have legalized recreational marijuana.
This week, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s office announced that nearly 60,000 marijuana-related convictions will be dismissed before California voted to legalize the drug.
The country’s largest prosecutor’s office and lawyers are urging other jurisdictions to do the same, overturning convictions that they say can create barriers to participation in today’s society.
“In general, if you’ve been convicted of a crime, you can’t take your children in extracurricular programs,” Gascón told USA TODAY. “The extent of the restrictions is very high. Many landlords will not rent you a house. Many employers will not hire you.”
The overturned convictions, in addition to about 66,000 in 2020, will be identified by Gascón’s predecessor Jackie Lacey after Proposition 64 was passed in 2016 that legalized recreational cannabis in the nation’s most populous state. A bill last year hired prosecutors to review previous convictions.
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The tens of thousands of convictions cleared this week were missed in the initial review that relied on records from the California Department of Justice, said Felicia Carbajal, executive director of the Social Impact Center, which worked with Gascón’s office to review the records of the District Court review.
And, she said, there are likely many more past convictions that have yet to be identified.
It is a national matter. In Arizona, lawyers criticize low numbers, and in New Jersey courts are trying to raise awareness so people can review their files to see if they are eligible to have previous cannabis convictions overturned.
“We have to create a mood by having ordinary people check in, receive their allegations and make sure they aren’t just relying on government agencies to say, ‘Hey, we deleted your file,'” Carbajal told USA TODAY. “Because that is the reality, it could have fallen by the wayside for a number of reasons.”
Prop 64 became law in California in 2016 and legalized recreational cannabis
After cannabis legalization in California, many people with previous convictions were eligible for reduced convictions – including Ingrid Archie of Los Angeles, one of the first in the state to petition after Prop 64 became law.
Archie, now 40, told USA TODAY that when she was in her early twenties she was convicted of crimes, including possession of marijuana, and that she missed job opportunities as a result. Now Archie hopes that her experience will serve as an example to other people affected by such beliefs.
“I want to be able to show my community that ‘Look, I know them and I know that I can apply when they have.’ And people will take the necessary steps to keep their records clean, “Archie said.
“It’s so important that we found all of these people who urgently need to remove the noose from their necks. And when I say ‘noose’ I mean the barriers that arise when a person does not get a job, when … a person cannot find a home when a person is due to the barriers created by archaic laws on poor people Aiming out of our community may not get the necessary resources they need, “Archie said during a press conference Monday.
The records, which go back about three decades, will be completely sealed, Gascón said. The announcement comes during Action and Awareness Week, formerly known as National Eradication Week.
Arizona, New York among states working to overturn previous convictions
Eighteen states and Washington, DC have legalized recreational marijuana. Gascón and Carbajal told USA TODAY that they hope other jurisdictions will have talks on how to redress the damage that can be done to those with criminal records for now legal acts.
“One of the things that we need to focus on at the national level, as we move on and see more states create regulated markets, is to have these conversations about the impact on the communities that have been left out of the conversation.” said Carbajal of the Social Impact Center, a nonprofit that acts as a bridge between government, grassroots organizations and underserved communities.
She said she hopes Los Angeles and other places will ensure that different departments communicate with each other to find all legal criminal records, that technology is streamlining the process, and that the jurisdictions hire external accountability auditors.
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“What are you going to do to check it out?” asked Carbajal.
In New York, where the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act decriminalized marijuana, records of previous convictions can be deleted and the state has two years to find each and complete the deletion.
This is not going fast enough for many New Yorkers whose lives continue to be shaped by their records.
State Sen. Jeremy Cooney partnered with stakeholders like Just Case, Law NY, Legal Aid Society, and others to host a community-centric marijuana record deletion clinic earlier this month to help residents who have concerns about their records Legal experts can speak to help potentially speed up the wiping process.
Like Los Angeles, New York courts won’t necessarily automatically notify people when their files have been deleted, so anyone with a potential criminal record must take steps to find out for themselves, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, part of the USA TODAY Network, reports .
In Arizona, Proposition 207 legalized the use and possession of cannabis, but hundreds of thousands of people entitled to overturn previous convictions have not yet filed for cancellation.
Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and is the fourth largest in the country, has granted more than 3,600 petitions to overturn marijuana convictions since it was published in July. The Maricopa County Supreme Court said an average of 506 petitions are filed each week, The Arizona Republic of the USA TODAY Network reported.
Since July, when New Jersey began its fire-fighting efforts, the state has overturned more than 362,000 cannabis convictions, WHYY reported. Now New Jersey courts are trying to further raise awareness.
“We applaud any victory that removes barriers for our communities. We acknowledge the ongoing work to ensure that the courts complete this process, ”Carbajal said at the press conference. “We hope this will serve as inspiration for other cities and community leaders across the country who dare to question, truly explore and press for avenues to justice.”
Featuring: Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; Isabella Martillaro, Republic of Arizona; Adria R. Walker, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle; The Associated Press