Expunging past marijuana convictions is often a cumbersome, time-consuming and costly process. It’s why many states with legal cannabis programs have emphasized creating events and easy processes to increase expungement rates for those that qualify.
But the city of Los Angeles is going one step further. Prosecutors have announced plans to automatically dismiss or reduce marijuana-related convictions in L.A. and San Joaquin counties. It is estimated that 50,000 cases in L.A. and 4,000 in San Joaquin are eligible under expungement rules set by Proposition 64, which also legalized and regulated recreational marijuana in the state.
To identify those cases, prosecutors partnered with Code for America, a nonprofit that developed an algorithm program that could immediately process those cases that were eligible.
“This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing the mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future,” Los Angeles county district attorney, Jackie Lacey, told The Guardian.
How far back L.A. is willing to go hasn’t yet been announced, though the cases are expected to stretch decades. Most of the cases that will be dismissed involve low-level marijuana possession charges. San Francisco was the first to partner with Code of America when it expunged 9,000 marijuana-related convictions after only 23 people successfully petitioned or hired lawyers to remove those convictions last year.
As Jennifer Pahlka, the executive director of Code For America, told The Guardian, this work demonstrates that expungement doesn’t have to be difficult and could catalyze communities in substantial ways.
“When we do this right, we show that government can make good on its promises, especially for the hundreds of thousands who have been denied jobs, housing and other opportunities despite the passage of laws intended to provide relief,” Pahlka said.