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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.

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

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