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Missed  Demeanors

You can now get old marijuana charges cleared from your record, and here’s here’s how to make your prior pot convictions go up in smoke.

One of the little-known provisions of California’s new legal cannabis law is that you can get your old marijuana convictions tossed out and erased from your record. Deep in the weeds of Prop. 64, the landmark 2016 measure that legalized recreational marijuana statewide as of this Jan. 1, sits an obscure section declaring that prior marijuana offenses can be removed and expunged — no matter how long ago you got busted.

California lawmakers have acknowledged that the Drug War disproportionately locked up people of color. But anyone with a marijuana charge on their record has serious problems finding employment or housing, no matter the color of their skin.

Be warned that, although a legal framework is in place, it does take significant effort on your part to get your old marijuana crimes expunged, But in San Francisco, the District Attorney’s office just announced they are doing this automatically for all marijuana arrests since 1975. (There’s also a bill before the state legislature that would make your pot priors disappear automatically, with no effort on your part.)

Here’s how it works for now. Prop. 64 legalized possession of up to one ounce of weed, and as many as six plants. If your marijuana arrest involved that much marijuana or less, you can wipe that charge off your record. People in jail on such charges can get released, as long as a court rules that person doesn’t pose “an unreasonable risk of danger to public  safety.”

If you ever got popped for a marijuana-related crime, the easiest way to get rid of it is by visiting a website called ClearMyRecord.org. That site serves residents of 11 California counties, including San Francisco, Alameda, and Marin. The questions are awfully damned personal and the process is more strenuous than doing your taxes, but you will be referred to a qualified defense attorney who’ll go to bat for you.

But the San Francisco District Attorney has just announced they automatically dismissing all marijuana charges, dating back to 1975, with no effort required on your part.

“San Francisco District Attorney’s Office will be reviewing, recalling and resentencing up to 4,940 felony marijuana convictions and dismissing and sealing 3,038 misdemeanors which were sentenced prior to the [Prop. 64’s] passage,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a Jan. 31 announcement. “This will not require any action be taken by those who are eligible pursuant to Proposition 64.”

More serious felony marijuana crimes can also be reduced to misdemeanors. If you got caught selling pot on Haight Street and have a felony on your record, you can get that felony reduced to a much lighter misdemeanor charge.

These loosened laws aren’t new as of 2018, either. Reduced sentences went into effect the moment Prop. 64 passed in November 2016. While it appeared as just a brief paragraph on your voting ballot, the full version of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act is more than 60 pages of rules and regulations. At the bottom of page 56, it reads:

“A person currently serving a sentence for a conviction, whether by trial or by open or negotiated plea, who would not have been guilty of an offense or who would have been guilty of a lesser offense under the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act had that Act been in effect at the time of the offense may petition for a recall or dismissal of sentence before the trial court that entered the judgment of conviction in his or her case to request resentencing or dismissal,” the bill says.

A few paragraphs later, it extends this amnesty to “a person who has completed his or her sentence for a  conviction.” In other words, an ex-con could have any jail time served removed from their record.

According to December 2017 data from the California Judicial Branch, nearly 4,500 people statewide have applied to have their marijuana sentences reduced or eliminated. We don’t know how many have managed to make it so, as the process can take more than a year. Here in San Francisco, 232 people have applied.

That’s all nice! But considering that nearly half a million Californians have been arrested on marijuana charges during the last 10 years alone, that’s barely one percent of the state’s weed war victims. And African-Americans were arrested for cannabis crimes at three-and-a-half times the rate of white people, according to 2015 data.

Again, you can’t get every marijuana charge reduced, only ones that would have been legal if Prop. 64 had been in effect at the time. If a gun was involved, if you lied to the police, or if you were driving stoned, do not expect much relief here.

But you can get some pretty major crimes reduced to much lesser charges. Possession of more than an ounce used to be a serious jail-time felony, because they assumed you were dealing. You can get that felony reduced to a misdemeanor that maxes out at a $500 fine or six months in jail. They might even reimburse your old fines!

Arrests for running a large grow of more than six plants are now also retroactively reduced to a  misdemeanor. Even if you were arrested for FedEx-ing pounds of vacuum-sealed kind bud across state lines, that charge too is now seen as just a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanors involving less than an ounce can be completely removed and your record expunged. (Technically, the charge still exists, but by being “sealed,” it’s erased in the eyes of the law.)

Unless you live in San Francisco, this whole legal process will be arduous work and could take months or years to complete. You might rack up significant legal bills. But this exhausting procedure could soon be done automatically for those of you outside San Francisco, also at no charge.

Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta has introduced a bill that would instantly reduce all of these types of marijuana convictions, without the defending have to petition a court.

“AB 1793 will give people the fresh start to which they are legally entitled and allow them to move on with their lives,” his office said in a release. “The War on Drugs unjustly and disproportionately targeted young people of color for enforcement and prosecution.

“Long after paying their debt to society, the collateral consequences of having a criminal conviction continues to disrupt their lives in profound ways, such as preventing them from gaining employment or finding housing,” he added.

Bonta’s bill is aspirational, and it still needs to grind through months of committees, rewrites, and votes. We can’t even guess whether it will ultimately pass.

But the public and legislative momentum is clearly shifting against marijuana sentencing. This is fantastic for the new generation of cannabis lovers, though little comfort for those doing time or suffering enormous life consequences for handling the now-legal herb. Those people deserve a better shake now that pot is no longer a crime, and society should provide their lives with all the tools they need — but no priors.

You can start the process of clearing your old marijuana charges by visiting ClearMyRecord.org.