Nearly 50,000 people who have been convicted of marijuana-related offenses will have their convictions erased or reduced, according to a statement on Monday from the district attorney of Los Angeles County.
In partnership with Code for America, a nonprofit tech organization, Los Angeles County will identify decades-old court cases that it would otherwise have been unable to find. Using this technology, it will remove marijuana convictions altogether or reduce felony sentences to misdemeanors.
“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. Helping to clear that path by reducing or dismissing cannabis convictions can result in someone securing a job or benefitting from other programs that may have been unavailable to them in the past,” L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement. The district attorney for San Joaquin County, Tori Verber Salazar, also announced that her county would work with Code for America to erase nearly 4,000 marijuana-related offenses from the public record.
The initiative is the result of Proposition 64, a 2016 measure that legalized marijuana possession in the state of California. As part of the measure, voters also approved erasing past marijuana-related convictions and authorizing resentencing for eligible offenders. San Francisco was the first California city to put the measure into action, announcing last month that it was partnering with Code for America to erase or reduce the sentences of nearly 9,300 offenders arrested on marijuana charges.
In 2015, more than 2,139 people in the state of California were convicted and jailed on marijuana-only offenses. Nearly a quarter of those offenders were black, a disproportionate percentage compared to whites arrested on marijuana-only charges, according to data from Drug Policy Action; this tracks with national data, which similarly suggests that existing federal marijuana laws for low-level offenders have a disproportionate impact on the black community.
California is not the first state to retroactively erase or reduce marijuana-related sentences. In 2014, after the state of Oregon legalized marijuana possession, a 2015 ballot initiative allowed for certain charges, such as possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, to be retroactively expunged. Other lawmakers in cities like Chicago and Baltimore have vowed to expunge thousands of marijuana convictions.
Currently, recreational marijuana use for people over the age of 21 is legal in 10 states and Washington D.C., while medical marijuana use is legal in 33 states. Code for America’s Clear My Record campaign aims to clear 250,000 marijuana convictions nationwide by the end of this year.