As cannabis is being legalized in more states, the issue of old convictions becomes more and more relevant than ever. In just the past week, Seattle took steps forward toward vacating convictions for possessing cannabis – which is no longer a crime – and a Pennsylvania lawmaker introduced a legalization bill that includes specifics on expunging records. Now California Governor Jerry Brown has signed Assembly Bill 1793, which will streamline the process that made it so difficult to have qualifying cannabis-related convictions cleared now that the plant is legal.
“This is transformative,” said Rodney Holcombe of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City-based national organization that advocates for human rights-driven drug policies. “This creates an opportunity for people to reclaim their lives.”
As additional states legalize cannabis, more and more are realizing that, in addition to ending prohibition, we need to start repairing the damage done as well. The passage of Proposition 64 in 2016 did include lines allowing convictions to be erased upon request. However, it did not make that process any simpler than before; it only guaranteed certain convictions would be vacated.
“Prop. 64 provided redemption and rehab and a chance to rebuild those lives – these expungement and reductions are a big part of that,” Assembly member Rob Bonta said. “I wanted to make sure that the promise in Prop. 64 was kept.”
This bill would require the state to do the work, rather than leaving it up to individuals to file paperwork to have their record expunged. Now, the state will go through and certain crimes will be cleared from records and others will see significantly reduced charges. For example, being convicted of possession with an intent to sell would be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, which would be the charge under current law for illegal sale. Some may not even know they are eligible for such a change, so this will ensure that everyone sees the benefit of the new law.
“Popular opinion has changed so much,” Holcombe said. “Lots of support has already been generated around the folks who have been convicted and are still burdened by these collateral consequences – and there’s growing interest in remedying that. My hope is that this momentum can continue, and we can use California as a guide on how to move forward.”
California included an incomplete clause in their legalization law in the hopes of starting to clear up the harm done to citizens over the years of prohibition, but they have now passed a complimentary law that will ensure Proposition 64 can be carried out in its entirety. States like Pennsylvania, who are looking at legalizing the plant, are starting to think to include these details in their legalization bills as well. Hopefully, this will become a standard of sorts when other state’s lawmakers draft legislation to end prohibition.