Thousands of Marijuana Convictions Could Be Erased Under New California Bill

The California State Legislature approved a bill on Wednesday that would require prosecutors to consider erasing or reducing hundreds of thousands of criminal convictions for marijuana.

The Senate passed the bill 22-8 with bipartisan support, according to the Associated Press, and it is currently waiting for Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

This bill puts in place a criminal record review system after voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016, allowing for the recreational use of marijuana and eliminating crimes related to pot both current and retroactively.

Democratic Assemblymember Rob Bonta introduced the bill and said in a statement that it would allow individuals to “turn the page” by giving them the opportunity to petition the court to overturn their cannabis-related offenses.

“Long after paying their debt to society, people shouldn’t continue to face the collateral consequences, like being denied a job or housing, because they have an outdated conviction on their record,” Bonta said. “I’m proud to see AB 1793 pass the Senate with bipartisan support and I’m hopeful the governor will sign this important bill.”

He also added that while individuals were already allowed to petition the court to get their convictions overturned, many were “unaware of this opportunity to change their records” and could get confused by legal bureaucracy. 

The bill mandates that reduction and erasing will not only be left up to the individual but will also require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to go through marijuana cases between 1975 and 2016 and identify eligible individuals.

The DOJ estimates that the number could be up to 220,000 cases. However, according to the Los Angeles Times, only about 5,000 people have petitioned the courts on their cannabis records as of last September.

The DOJ would have until July 1, 2019, to determine which cases are able to be reviewed and send them over to prosecutors, who would have until July 1, 2020, to decide which eligible cases they want to challenge.

While the bill passed with a two-thirds majority, some did oppose the bill, including Republican state Sen. Jim Neilsen.

“This directs us to forget any prior behavior that was illegal,” Nielsen told his colleagues. “They should not be given a pass.”

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