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After LA Times investigation, law passed to force California to clear pot convictions faster

Kiera Feldman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — California has new deadlines to dismiss and seal many cannabis convictions under a law signed this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The move comes after a Los Angeles Times investigation found that tens of thousands of Californians still have felonies, misdemeanors and other cannabis convictions on their records. Despite a 2018 law that required the state to clear cannabis convictions, many counties have moved at glacial speeds. Some superior courts haven't fully processed a single case, the Times found.

"It is unimaginable and unacceptable that years after we legalized cannabis, Californians are still waiting to get their records cleared," the bill's author, Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda), said in a statement. "We have a moral obligation to get this right."

The new law gives the courts a deadline of March 1 to update case records and transmit them to the state Department of Justice, which maintains California's criminal history database and responds to background checks. The state DOJ must modify its records by July 1.

The change will fix "implementation gaps" of the 2018 law, Bonta said. The Times investigation found that at least 34,000 marijuana records have not been fully processed by the courts.

State lawmakers voted unanimously for the legislation, citing the Times investigation in analyses earlier this year.

 

The bill's sponsor is the Last Prisoner Project, which advocates for cannabis criminal justice reform nationwide. In a statement, the group's state policy director, Gracie Burger, said the law represents "accountability for the racist origins of cannabis prohibition."

"Californians who would not be guilty of any crime today still suffer the weight of old marijuana convictions," Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender Nick Stewart-Oaten said in a statement.

"We applaud the Legislature and governor for taking immediate action to give these men and women back their lives," said Stewart-Oaten, a board member of the California Public Defenders Association.

Kate Weaver Patterson, the deputy director of national programs at Root & Rebound in Oakland, also commended the passage of the legislation.

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