If other counties follow San Francisco’s lead, district attorneys’ offices across the state can erase pot convictions under California’s new legal marijuana laws.
“Our vision is to help government clear all eligible criminal records starting with convictions under Prop. 64,” said Jennifer Pahlka, executive director of Code for America, a non-profit with the goal of making government more efficient, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
The November 2016 passage of Proposition 64 prompted San Francisco’s District Attorney to announce in January that his office would dismiss and seal more than 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions dating back to 1975. As of May, the DA has only been able to prepare 962 motions to dismiss, with the courts granting 428 of these according to the Chronicle.
Dealing with the city’s 4,940 felony marijuana convictions, however, is more difficult. District Attorney George Gascón announced a partnership with Code for America to use a computer algorithm to identify which felonies the courts can reclassify.
“A lot of what we do is antiquated….We’re very excited to partner with Code for America,” said Gascón at the press conference. By using this new algorithm, the DA’s office will not have to use attorneys to pull the file and review each case.
In contrast, it costs Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office over $400,000 a year to clear about 1,100 convictions in 2016, according to Safe and Sound a report by Californians for Safety and Justice.
“We heard from prosecutors around the state…(they) don’t have the resources” to review, reduce or seal decades of marijuana convictions, said Gascón. With this algorithm, that argument goes away.
Gascón said he hopes their work will serve as a template that other jurisdictions can use to review past cases in states where marijuana is now legal, reports the Chronicle.
Criminal justice reform advocates have long complained that marijuana convictions disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. In San Francisco, even with similar use patterns, Blacks were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as Whites according to as 2013 American Civil Liberties Union study.