By Amy Fullerton, Clarissa Rios and Sophia Barberini
LOS ANGELES, CA – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, in tandem with The Social Impact Center, recently announced nearly 60,000 cannabis convictions will be dismissed and sealed in order to fight drug injustices that disproportionately affect people of color.
Proposition 64 is a California proposition that made recreational marijuana use legal in 2016. Prior to the adoption of Proposition 64, possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes was criminalized, sometimes carrying a penalty of heavy fines and prison time.
Working with the Social Impact Center, DA Gascón, the co-author of Proposition 64, believes that overturning marijuana convictions will send the right message to communities that were disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana.
“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long needed-relief. It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services that were previously denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws,” said Gascón.
Public Defender Ricardo García applauded Gascón’s efforts, stating that this “mass dismissal of cannabis convictions restores dignity and provides new opportunities to those who have been unfairly impacted by outdated, tough-on-crime anti-drug laws.”
After Assembly Bill 1793, which requires prosecutors in California to review cannabis convictions, was passed last year, roughly 66,000 cannabis convictions were dismissed in Los Angeles County.
Despite the progress being made through the bill, it did have a shortcoming.
The issue stemmed from the bill only covering cases that came directly from state Department of Justice data. After an in-depth review of Los Angeles County court records, it was revealed that approximately 58,000 felony and misdemeanor cases are also eligible for dismissal.
While Proposition 64 did not explicitly say that past convictions needed to be sealed or expunged, local Los Angeles district attorneys took initiative to make sure they helped impacted Los Angeles communities by sealing past convictions and giving affected populations an equal opportunity for work, education, and immigration statuses.
Lynne Lyman, the former director of the Drug Policy Alliance, has commended Gascón’s efforts.
“This is the unfinished work of Proposition 64. We created the opportunity for old cannabis convictions to be cleared, but it was up to local district attorneys to actually make it happen…I applaud District Attorney Gascón for taking this action,” said Lyman.
With the new influx of past cannabis cases being expunged, many of the affected were unaware that they were eligible for resentencing or that their case could be sealed ever since the adoption of Proposition 64. In totality, approximately 125,000 cannabis cases in Los Angeles County are being dismissed.
“The dismissal of 60,000 marijuana-related cases by DA Gascón is a pivotal step in reforming our criminal justice system. This sends the right signal to the community that the nation was wrong in its ‘war on marijuana’ and that criminal convictions for marijuana offenses have a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color,” said Alternate Public Defender Erika Anzoátegui.
District Attorney Gascón’s announcement took place during the “Week of Action and Awareness (WOAA).” It is organized by the National Expungement Works (N.E.W.), which works to provide services such as assistance with voter registration, health screening, and grocery distribution.