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San Francisco Automatically Expunges 8,100 Marijuana Convictions Using Computer Program

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A novel approach to marijuana expungements has helped San Francisco identify more than 8,100 cannabis convictions dating back to 1975 that will soon be automatically cleared, the district attorney鈥檚 office announced on Monday.

That would make San Francisco, which is both a city and county, the first county in the United States to complete an automatic marijuana expungement process. The office had previously expunged the records of 1,230 residents, so the sum total of sealed convictions will be over 9,600.

District Attorney聽George Gasc贸n announced last year that his office would retroactively expunge prior cannabis convictions for individuals who qualify under the state’s cannabis legalization law that voters approved in 2016. That was significant because, as the law was written, the process to get records cleared is petition-based and burdensome.

To get the job done expeditiously,聽Gasc贸n’s office teamed up with the non-profit organization Code for America, which developed an algorithm designed to identify eligible cases and streamline expungements.

“Prosecutors should act to address the inherent unfairness of penalizing people for activity that is no longer illegal,”聽Gasc贸n said in a press release. “Using technology, we have been able to proactively bring greater racial equity and fairness to marijuana legalization in California. I am thrilled to see other counties and states following suit by offering similar relief in their communities. It鈥檚 the right thing to do.”

Fourteen counties across California have partnered with Code for America to utilize its Clear My Record technology, which takes the onus off individuals to submit petitions and requires minimal work from district attorneys offices that choose to adopt it.

“The Clear My Record technology can automatically and securely evaluate eligibility for convictions by reading and interpreting conviction data,” according to a press release from the group. “It can evaluate eligibility for thousands of convictions in just a few minutes.”

In the months since聽Gasc贸n announced that San Francisco would move to automatically expunge convictions for cannabis offenses made legal under state law, multiple municipalities across the country have followed its lead.聽Seattle,聽Oakland, Chicago, Denver, Baltimore and Washington State have all made similar commitments.

And marijuana policy reform advocates are increasingly demanding that expungement provisions be included in legalization legislation.

“Contact with the criminal justice system should not be a life sentence, so we’ve been working to reimagine the record clearance process,”聽Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive of Code for America, said in the press release. “Our work asks how we can make government work better for the people it serves, and we are honored to partner with DA Gasc贸n’s office to deliver relief to thousands who have been blocked from access to jobs, housing and other opportunities for so long.”

“This new approach, which is both innovative and common sense, changes the scale and speed of justice and has the potential to ignite change across the country,” she said.

Washington Governor Will Pardon People With Marijuana Possession Convictions, He Announces

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

New York Legal Marijuana Push 鈥楨ffectively Over鈥 For 2020, Governor Says

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it鈥檚 unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.

鈥淢arijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn鈥檛 get a chance to do,鈥 he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would鈥檝e liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.

鈥淚s the session effectively over? It鈥檚 up to the legislature, but I think it鈥檚 fair to say it鈥檚 effectively over,鈥 he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo elements courtesy of聽Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Carlos Gracia.

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Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation

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A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.

“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”

“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”

Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.

“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”

“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.

Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.

“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”

Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.

For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.

Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.

Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus

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North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.

“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”

Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.

“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”

The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.

California activists for campaigns to amend the state’s legal cannabis program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are asking for a digital signature option.

Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

An effort to聽legalize medical cannabis聽in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri聽is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for聽a measure to decriminalize drug possession聽and a separate聽initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes聽have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was聽鈥渘ot likely鈥 going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that聽they are suspending their campaign, though they are still 鈥渇ocusing on distributing petitions through online download at聽IdahoCann.co聽and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk鈥檚 office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.鈥

Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.

Virginia Groups Push Governor To Amend Marijuana Decriminalization Bill On His Desk

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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