San Francisco’s repository of drug offense records is about to get considerably smaller.
According to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco is planning to eradicate thousands of marijuana convictions from the public ledger. The city recently legalized the sale and usage of marijuana, with retailers starting to sell recreational pot at the beginning of January. Now, the city has decided to apply the new legalization laws to retroactively.
The announcement came from the San Francisco District Attorney’s office on Wednesday, January 31. A sweeping act of criminal record expungement, the move could clear marijuana records dating back to 1975. Thousands of people convicted of the cultivation, purchase, or possession of marijuana in the past four-plus decades will no longer have criminal records.
San Francisco’s pot legalization act, Proposition 64, allows individuals in the city to grow six or fewer marijuana plants “for personal use.” Prop 64 also makes it legal to buy or possess up to one ounce of marijuana.
Since Proposition 64 passed, the DA’s office has received almost 5,000 petitions from weed offenders seeking expungement. In addition to decriminalizing many drug offenses related to marijuana, Prop 64 also opened the door for people previously convicted of those offenses to petition for expungement. Marijuana offenses more severe than those covered by Prop 64, meanwhile, were often eligible to be reduced from felony to misdemeanor status. For instance, if someone was convicted of a felony for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana, they could petition to have that conviction reduced.
However, District Attorney George Gascón said that many people are unaware of expungement or how the process works. As a result, he said his department would be “taking action for the community” rather than waiting for ex-offenders to petition for expungement themselves.
To honor the promise, the DA’s office is opening some 5,000 case files for marijuana convictions. Those convictions will be reviewed and recalled wherever Proposition 64 decriminalized the offense in question. In other cases, the offenses will be recategorized and resentenced to less severe convictions. The L.A. Times piece said that more than 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana offenses from before Proposition 64 would be expunged or sealed.
Gascón said that the move would help former drug offenders move on with their lives without criminal convictions hanging over their heads. He added that marijuana offenses, while typically seen as minor in the world of crime, can still be barriers to employment and housing for many offenders. By expunging those records, the City of San Francisco will effectively be eliminating those obstacles. Gascón expects the move will help communities of color in particular.
Expunged or sealed records are typically not shown on background checks. As a result, once the San Francisco DA’s office has finished dismissing marijuana offenses, those crimes will no longer show on background checks for employment, housing, credit, or other purposes. If someone were to use backgroundchecks.com to run a San Francisco county criminal check on a former misdemeanor marijuana offender, that person’s drug charge would not be a part of the report we would compile.