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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

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization In Committee Vote

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A Texas House committee approved a marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday that would make simple possession punishable by a fine, with no jail time, and without having to go on an individual’s criminal record.

The legislation passed in a 5-2 vote out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and now heads to a separate panel responsible for placing bills on the calendar for floor debates.

Possession of one ounce or less of cannabis would be punished with a $250 fine for the first two offenses. After that, possession would be considered a class C misdemeanor, which is still a lesser penalty compared to current law. As it stands, possession of two ounces or less is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail聽as well as a permanent criminal record, which carries steep collateral consequences.

Earlier this month, the committee held a hearing on the legislation and heard testimony about the long-term impacts of having a low-level cannabis conviction on a person’s record and how removing criminal penalties for possession can free up law enforcement resources so that officers can tackle more serious crimes.

Advocates are hopeful that the full House will embrace the modest reform measure, even as the legislature contemplates other cannabis policies such as expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program.

“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,”聽Heather Fazio, director of聽Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Overall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we shouldn’t be wasting valuable criminal justice resources arresting and prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Texas is ready.”

While medical cannabis expansion, to say nothing of adult-use legalization, remains a dubious prospect in the conservative stronghold, removing the threat of jail time for possession has gained popularity among Texas Republicans. Delegates for the Republican Party of Texas adopted a platform plank last year that endorses marijuana decriminalization, for example.

“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” the plank states.

What’s more, the policy has even received a tentative green light from Gov. Greg聽Abbott (R), who has said he is open to legislation that would reduce penalties for simple possession.

During a gubernatorial debate last year, Abbot said聽he doesn’t want to see “jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana” and floated the idea of reducing the penalty for marijuana possession from a class B to a class C misdemeanor.

According to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, the legislation currently has 32 authors or co-authors.

Connecticut Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Key Committee

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Connecticut Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Key Committee

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A key committee in the Connecticut legislature approved a bill to legalize marijuana on Monday.

The General Law Committee, which is one of two panels that heard testimony about legalization legislation last week, voted 10 to 8 to advance the bill.

Beyond legalizing cannabis for adult use, the legislation also includes a number of social equity provisions aimed at encouraging participation in the legal industry by individuals from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war. A governor-appointed commission would be charged with giving such individuals advance time to apply for a marijuana business license and promote diversity in hiring.

“At the end of the day, if we鈥檙e moving, it鈥檚 not about revenue. It鈥檚 about equity,”聽Rep. Juan Candelaria (D) said at the meeting. “It鈥檚 about ensuring that these communities that have been impacted, that we say we鈥檙e not going to stay idle anymore.”

The commission would also be required to study the potential impacts of allowing cannabis microbusinesses and a home cultivation option, which are not currently included in the bill. Delivery would be permitted, however.

While advocates generally support the bill, there are some outstanding concerns about the lack of a home grow option. The lack of specific licenses for delivery services and on-site consumption facilities is another sticking point.

鈥淢arijuana prohibition was borne of misinformation and racism and it continues to be enforced unequally to this day,鈥 Karen O鈥橩eefe, director of state policies at the聽Marijuana Policy Project, said at last week’s hearing.

It’s not yet clear whether the legislature will ultimately pass this proposal or a separate bill in the Senate, but if either does end up on the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont (D), he’s expected to sign. The governor called legalization one of his “priorities” last year and also discussed the issue during a budget speech last month.

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on legalization legislation on Thursday.

A separate bill to revise the state’s medical cannabis program by adding opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions and eliminating a registration certification fee for patients and caregivers was also approved by the General Law Committee on Monday.

Connecticut Lawmakers Hold Two Simultaneous Hearings On Marijuana Legalization Bills

This story was updated to note the committee’s vote tally.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Marijuana Legalization Vote Cancelled Due To Lack of Support In New Jersey Senate

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Marijuana reform advocates experienced a setback on Monday after bill to legalize cannabis in New Jersey was pulled from the agenda due to a lack of votes to pass the legislation in the Senate.

The proposal would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess, consume and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. It included a number of social equity provisions meant to encourage participation in the industry by individuals from communities most harmed by the war on drugs, and it also would’ve created a pathway for expedited expungements for prior cannabis convictions.

Two committees鈥攖he Assembly Appropriations Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee鈥approved companion cannabis legalization bills last week.

But while Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and leading lawmakers聽reached a compromise on certain details on how to carry out legalization聽earlier this month, the legislation faced resistance and was taken off the table hours before scheduled votes in the Senate and Assembly.

“History is rarely made on the first try,” Murphy said in a press conference. “Certainly I’m disappointed but we are not defeated… We all remain committed to passing this bill and making our state a national model for justice and opportunity because ultimately this is the right thing to do for New Jersey, and we know the people of New Jersey are on our side.”

“While we are all disappointed that we did not secure enough votes to ensure legislative approval of the adult use cannabis bill today, we made substantial progress on a plan that would make significant changes in social policy,”聽Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D)聽said in a statement.聽“This fight is not over. We need to learn from this experience and continue to move forward. While this legislation is not advancing today, I remain committed to its passage.鈥

“The legalization of adult-use marijuana will get passed in the state of New Jersey, one way or another,” he added at a press conference. “Anybody who thinks this is dead, they’re wrong.”

Assembly Speaker聽Craig Coughlin (D) echoed those sentiments.

“Today we may not be able to get a bill over the finish line but I’m proud of the effort we made and the discussions we had. It’s a big and complicated issue,” he said in a press conference. “We all remain committed to enacting fair and responsible legislation that will be groundbreaking and a national model.”

According to a whip count tracking tool for the legislation that was created by NJ.com, a majority of senators (23) planned to vote “no” as of Monday morning, compared to just eight who said they’d vote in favor of the bill, with nine others undetermined. Other sources indicated that 18 senators planned to vote “yes.”

In the days leading up to the Monday session, the legislation received a number of high-profile endorsements, including from 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rev. Al Sharpton and CNN host Van Jones. The governor’s office also released a list of quotes supporting the bill from lawmakers, activists and spiritual leaders.

“With this bill,聽New Jersey legislators聽can聽send a strong message聽to the country聽that marijuana legalization and social justice聽must聽be聽inextricably linked,鈥 Booker said last week. “I鈥檓 hopeful our state will succeed in setting this example.”

Those endorsements were ultimately not enough to convince a sufficient number of on-the-fence state senators, some of whom raised concerns about the potential public health and safety impacts of legalization.

“This is a tragedy for social and racial justice in New Jersey. This legislation was supported by a broad coalition of civil rights, advocacy and faith organizations across the state and the majority of New Jersey voters,” Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “But, we will not give up. We will continue to fight for marijuana legalization legislation centered on racial and social justice. It is only a matter of time before this legislation is enacted and all New Jerseyans can share in the benefits it will create.”

Prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana described the news as a “huge victory for us.”

“They told us legalization was inevitable, and this action proves them wrong, Kevin Sabet, the group’s president, said in a press release.

With the cancellation of the vote, it may be months before lawmakers take up the idea again.

鈥淰oters and lawmakers both agree that the practice of treating marijuana consumers as second-class citizens must end. Unfortunately, legislative intransigence regarding how best to create a regulatory framework has resulted in, at least for now, a continuation of the failed policy of marijuana criminalization in the Garden State,”聽NORML Political Associate Tyler McFadden said in a press release.

“[I]t should be acknowledged that, to date, no state has taken legislative action to regulate the adult use marijuana market,” she said. “In every jurisdiction where regulations exist, they were enacted by a direct vote of the citizenry. Based on current polling in New Jersey, we have little doubt that, if provided the opportunity, Garden State voters would take similar action.鈥

A poll last month found that New Jersey adults support legalizing marijuana, 62 percent to 32 percent.

Diversity Provisions Added To Marijuana Banking Bill Up For Congressional Vote This Week

This story was updated to add comment from Sweeney, DPA, NORML and SAM.

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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.
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