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Two More California Counties Will Use Tech To Expunge 54,000 Marijuana Convictions

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Two major California counties announced on Monday that they will be using an algorithm developed by Code for America to automate the expungements of people with prior marijuana convictions.

The district attorneys of Los Angeles and San Joaquin Counties said at a press conference that while the state’s voter-approved measure to legalize cannabis for adult use had the right intentions by providing for expungements, the process to petition the courts is exceedingly complicated and relies too heavily on the individuals themselves to clear their records.

“We expected a tsunami of petitions, but frankly, very few people took the legal action required to clear their records of cannabis convictions,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. “We quickly learned that the process approved by the voters was too cumbersome for most people that the law sought to help.”

According to Code for America, there are approximately 54,000 cannabis convictions between the two counties that are eligible for expungement. The organization’s Clear My Record technology will enable local governments to expedite those expungements with the use of an algorithm that identifies eligible cases and automatically files the forms required to get a record cleared.

San Francisco County successfully expunged the records for more than 8,100 marijuana convictions with the help of Code for America’s tech, District Attorney George Gascón announced in February.

“This tool is revolutionary. It is changing the way that we do business, but more importantly, it’s giving people a tool—a pathway to success,” San Joaquin District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said. “It’s empowering those who we took the power from and giving them that opportunity to create a solid journey going forward. This is nothing short of amazing.”

The partnership with Code for America could prove useful to counties across California, following the state’s enactment of a law last year that requires prosecutors to affirmatively review marijuana convictions that may be eligible for expungement by July 1, 2020.

Advocates are pushing for more states to include automatic expungements in legalization legislation, arguing that it’s a key component of restorative justice that’s necessary to right the wrongs of the war on drugs.

“In the digital age, automatic record clearance is just common sense,” Jennifer Pahlka, executive director of Code for America, said in a press release. “When we do this right, we show that government can make good on its promises, especially for the hundreds of thousands who have been denied jobs, housing and other opportunities despite the passage of laws intended to provide relief.”

“Clear My Record changes the scale and speed of justice and has the potential to ignite change across the state and the nation,” she said.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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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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