Clearing A Pot Conviction Just Got Easier In California

By Kelly Burch 10/02/18

Up to half a million Californians are estimated to be affected by the law.

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When California legalized marijuana in 2016, a provision in the new law made it possible for people with marijuana convictions to have their records cleared or changed to reflect reduced charges.

However, the process to do so was long and convoluted, meaning many people weren’t able to take advantage of it. Now, a newly-passed law will require the legislature to automatically review cannabis convictions, streamlining the process. 

“It was so inaccessible for a variety of reasons,” Rodney Holcombe of the Drug Policy Alliance told USA Today. “This (new law) will empower people. My heart goes out to people who have had to navigate this process on their own. It’s confusing, expensive and tiring.”   

Assembly Bill 1793 was passed by a majority in the California state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 30.

The bill requires the California Department of Justice “to review the records in the state summary criminal history information database and to identify past convictions that are potentially eligible for recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation pursuant to AUMA (the Adult Use Marijuana Act)” before July 1, 2019. After that, prosecutors will have a year to either clear the conviction or reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.

“AB 1793 will bring people closer to realizing their existing rights by creating a simpler pathway for Californians to turn the page and make a fresh start,” Assemblyman Rob Bonta told the Los Angeles Times. “Long after paying their debt to society, people shouldn’t continue to face the collateral consequences, like being denied a job or housing, because they have an outdated conviction on their records.”

Up to half a million Californians are estimated to be affected by the new policy. Misdemeanors including growing and transporting up to an ounce of marijuana can be cleared, while felony convictions including possession with intent to sell can be reduced to misdemeanors. 

“It’s safe to say the number of persons eligible to have their offenses reduced from felonies to misdemeanors is in the hundreds of thousands,” said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. “Most people should be relieved to no longer have a felony on their record.”

Despite the huge number of people who are eligible to have their sentences reduced, only 5,000 have applied in the past two years. This highlights the need for the new, automated process. 

“This is transformative,” Holcombe said. “This creates an opportunity for people to reclaim their lives."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.