Marijuana

Thousands of Old Los Angeles County Marijuana Convictions Will Be Expunged

Nearly 66,000 cases are covered, dating back to 1961.

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L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced this week that nearly 66,000 convictions for marijuana crimes are being dismissed. The move is part of a statewide effort to retroactively undo some of the drug war's long-term damage.

Proposition 64, passed by voters in 2016 to legalize the recreational sale and use of marijuana, made it possible for people who have been convicted of old marijuana charges to have those convictions reversed and the records purged. A subsequent bill passed in 2018, A.B. 1793, ordered prosecutors across the state to review records eligible for relief under Prop. 64 by July 2020.

San Francisco County, under then–District Attorney George Gascón, announced in January 2018 that it was partnering with Code for America to create an algorithmic system to track down citizens who qualify for relief. The pilot program includes several other counties in the state, including Los Angeles.

According to Lacey's announcement,

Prosecutors this week asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to dismiss 62,000 felony cannabis convictions for cases that date back to 1961. The District Attorney's Office also sought the dismissal of approximately 4,000 misdemeanor cannabis possession cases that included cases filed in 10 Los Angeles County cities: Los Angeles, Long Beach, Torrance, Pasadena, Inglewood, Burbank, Santa Monica, Hawthorne, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach.

For anyone interesting in how racially lopsided drug enforcement has historically been: 32 percent of the individuals getting assistance here are African American, and 45 percent are Latino. The Latino numbers match the county's demographics, but less than 10 percent of L.A. County's population is African American. By contrast, 52 percent of the county is white, but only 20 percent of the people getting their records cleared are white.

Code for America's involvement is invaluable. As Lacey's office notes, the existing process of clearing records is complicated, and otherwise each person must petition the court individually  to get records expunged or convictions dismissed. Without these automated tools, only 3 percent of the people eligible for relief under Prop. 64 have gotten it.

The timing of the announcement is interesting. Lacey is up for re-election in March, and she's facing a challenge from Gascón himself: He has moved to Los Angeles and is promising to institute more reforms than Lacey has been willing to commit to doing. He has promised, for example, to stop pursuing the death penalty. Lacey won't take it that far, saying she wants the ability to execute the "worst offenders," such as child murderers and serial killers. (This is a mostly academic argument at the moment. California hasn't executed a prisoner since 2006, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered a moratorium. But the state does still have more than 700 inmates on death row.)

ReasonTV interviewed Gascón last year when San Francisco turned to Code for America in help expunging records. Watch below:

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  1. I thought LA was going to give preferential treatment to people entering the cannabis business if they had prior related convictions — but how can you prove you deserve the priority if your conviction is expunged?

    1. It’s CA, you’ll just have to identify as somebody who’s been convicted.

  2. Thankfully this will undo all the damage done to people’s lives who were thrown in cages and lost employment opportunities for possessing a plant.

    1. It won’t. They deserve reparations.

  3. Excellent. So many 2nd amendment rights returned.

    1. This is California, what 2A rights?

      1. C’mon, man. Never explain the joke.

  4. San Francisco County, under then–District Attorney George Gascón, announced in January 2018 that it was partnering with Code for America to create an algorithmic system to track down citizens who qualify for relief.

    Let’s hope these aren’t the same Silicon Valley Superbrains who concocted the Iowa caucus app.

    1. Well, Code For America is a strictly non-political, non-partisan non-profit with a core mission of simplifying interactions between government and its citizens. It’s just a coincidence that its projects don’t focus on, say, making it easier to get building permits or business licenses or concealed-carry permits but instead on such things as making it easier to find subsidized housing, mass transit, farmer’s markets that take Food Stamps, that sort of thing. There’s nothing political or partisan at all about supporting access to Big Government programs.

      1. Look, you can be a one, or you can be a zero.

  5. Where is Reason on the case for expunging the record of convicted bookmakers in states where sports gambling is now legal?

  6. The lack of our checks and balances by our supreme court. We are so far behind in checking the constitutionality of a new law that our system allows people to be illegally prosecuted. The play dumb rule is in effect by our justice system as the process of choice.

    1. — Well said!

  7. This expungement initiative is something State and County Libertarian Parties ought to be specifically working to further. People whose study of law stopped at Futurama still don’t even try to register to vote because the cartoon robot said it was useless. Here is a chance to do good for Americans of voting age, rather than focus entirely on importation of foreign terrorists and socialist refugees.

  8. Reparations are in order.

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  10. “the state does still have more than 700 inmates on death row”

    One of those inmates is David Westerfield, who was convicted in 2002 of kidnapping and killing 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.

    There’s no evidence he kidnapped her, and no evidence he dumped her body. Moreover, nobody could figure out how he could have kidnapped her. From a house with a burglar alarm, several other people, and a dog. His alibi checked out. The dog scent evidence excluded him. and the entomology evidence excluded him. And someone else confessed. So the evidence is clear: he didn’t do it.

    1. Yeah, but was the D.A. up for re-election?

      1. Yes, he was. Good point. This was a horrifying crime, it was a very high-profile crime, and the community was frightened, so he needed a quick arrest and conviction to boost his election chances.

        It is therefore not surprising that he is suspected to have been a source of leaks to the media, leaks which might have jeopardized Westerfield’s right to a fair trial. This suspicion was reinforced when he publicly stated that there had been plea deal negotiations, and claimed that Westerfield had wanted a deal. Plea deals are confidential, and it is a violation of ethics guidelines to reveal them. Then, years later, he said that it was law enforcement that wanted the deal.

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