California might make it easier to clear your criminal record of cannabis

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, discusses his proposed measure to make it easier for people with marijuana convictions to erase or reduce their records, during a news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Bonta's bill would require county courts to automatically expunge or reduce eligible records, rather than requiring people to initiate the process themselves. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, discusses his proposed measure to make it easier for people with marijuana convictions to erase or reduce their records, during a news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

By Dan Mitchell

A bill introduced in the California Assembly on Tuesday would make it easier to clear your record of past marijuana crimes.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) said Californians need a “simpler and expedited pathway” to clean up their records, now that cannabis is legal in the Golden State.

Legalization Proposition 64 allows anyone convicted of past marijuana crimes to petition the courts to have those convictions reduced or wiped away entirely. But citizens must hire an attorney to file the right paperwork in the right county courthouse, which can cost time and hundreds of dollars in attorneys fees.

Bonta’s Assembly Bill 1793 would make the courts go back and clean up everyone’s record to reflect current law.

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

Proposition 64 legalized the possession up to one ounce of cannabis, eight grams of extract and the cultivation of six plants by persons age 21 or older.

Proposition 64 also significantly reduces the charges and punishments for things like low-level marijuana sales, so folks dogged by an decades-old ‘marijuana sales’ felony can get it potentially reduced to a misdemeanor.

Drug law reform groups the Drug Policy Alliance and California NORML are hailing Bonta’s bill. Past marijuana blemishes on one’s criminal record can result in ongoing lost job opportunities and other hardships. For example, a woman busted smoking a joint in ‘70s might be barred from running a daycare today.

“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,” stated Bonta.

The Drug Policy Alliance has been holding “expungement clinics” to help people clear their records. So far, according to the DPA, 4,885 people have petitioned state courts to have their cannabis convictions expunged. Thousands of prisoners awaiting trial for pot crimes have been released since Proposition 64 passed in November 2016. Thousands more have had their probation or parole reduced or lifted.

But many people with pot convictions on their records don’t even know they have the option to clear their record, the DPA has noted.

Bill Could Cost Millions of Dollars

It won’t be easy to undo several decades of drug war damage to folks’ records.
Between 1915 and 2016, California law enforcement made 2,756,778 cannabis arrests, California NORML found. Ordering the courts to expunge many of those records could potentially cost millions of dollars.

The state’s Judicial Council hasn’t taken a position on Bonta’s bill, but spokespeople there told GreenState implementing the law would be a tall order.

“The bill could create an intensive process for court staff to research and identify any individuals with prior marijuana convictions that are eligible for expungement. The bill may apply to literally tens of thousands of individuals. Since most courts have only recently digitized court records, court staff may need to search through storage facilities and warehouses manually to look through thousands of case files searching for past marijuana convictions.”

Rep. Bonta said a focused state effort might be cheaper on taxpayers than fulfilling citizen petitions one at a time.

“I think it might even be easier. Instead of doing multiple one-offs, this will streamline the process for them,” he said. “But there could be a cost, and a budget requirement. I hope the courts will see the wisdom of this.”

“The role of government should be to ease burdens and expedite the operation of law— not create unneeded obstacles. This is a practical, common sense bill. These individuals are legally entitled to expungement or reduction. It should be implemented without unnecessary delay or burden,” Bonta concluded.

What do you think? Should the state of California pay to update folks criminal records to reflect new cannabis law, or should people pay themselves? We’ll take your thoughts on our Facebook page.