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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

"Thousands of Californians have borne the brunt of a criminal record for longer than they should, which impacts their livelihood in deep and long-lasting ways, in areas like housing, employment and family stability," Weaver Patterson said in a statement.

Court officials blamed a combination of factors for delays, including COVID-19, staffing shortages, outdated case management systems, old records that require manual review and technical issues.

The delays are not, however, for a lack of funding, the Times reported. The courts received $16.83 million in state funds for processing records.

When California voters legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2016, one promise was the creation of a legal pathway through the courts for clearing many old marijuana-related convictions or reducing them to a lesser charge.

It was a step championed by reform advocates, meant to right many of the injustices inflicted by the nation's war on drugs that was disproportionately waged on poor people and communities of color.

The 2018 law, AB1793, was supposed to clear past cannabis convictions en masse, doing away with the need to file individual court petitions — an onerous process that few Californians undertook, whether for lack of resources or awareness it was an option. The burden was placed on the state to automate the process of identifying eligible cases, updating records and dismissing and sealing many of them so they do not appear on background checks.


The law was the first in the nation to offer automatic record clearance for marijuana convictions.

The delays in clearing drug charges can have dire consequences for those seeking employment, professional licensing, housing, loans and other instances in which background checks are required.

Under the new law, the state DOJ and the Judicial Council, which oversees the superior courts, will be tasked with collecting data on cannabis record clearance statewide and issuing regular public reports. The state DOJ also will lead a public awareness campaign so people will know their records have been updated and they no longer have to disclose convictions.

California has "fallen short of (the) promise" of Proposition 64, Bonta said. The new law will "guarantee individuals are not denied opportunities to succeed in life because of minor cannabis records."


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