California would set new deadlines to dismiss and seal many cannabis convictions under a bill introduced Wednesday aimed at redressing anti-drug laws that disproportionately targeted communities of color.
The move comes two weeks after a Times investigation found that tens of thousands of Californians are still stuck with felonies, misdemeanors and other cannabis convictions on their records. Despite a 2018 law that required the state to clear cannabis convictions, many courts have been slow to process cases, The Times found.
“California made a promise. I’m focused on making sure that California keeps its promises,” said the bill’s author, Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda). “This bill would allow us to automatically seal qualifying cannabis criminal records.”
The measure would give the courts until Jan. 1, 2023, to update case records and transmit them to the state Department of Justice, which maintains the statewide criminal history database and responds to background checks. July 1, 2023, would be the deadline for the state DOJ to modify its records accordingly.
The change would “clarify the intent” of the 2018 law, Bonta said. The Times investigation found that at least 34,000 marijuana records still have not been fully processed by the courts. Under the bill, the state DOJ would move forward updating its records if courts or prosecutors failed to make their deadlines.
“By default, the record would be sealed if the case is eligible,” said Bonta. “There are 34,000 people in the state of California … who are not able to truly and fully live their lives because there has been a failure to fully implement the law.”
The bill’s sponsor is the Last Prisoner Project, which advocates for cannabis criminal justice reform nationwide. In a statement, the group’s state policy director, Gracie Burger, said the bill would “ensure that California delivers on its overdue promise to those harmed by the War on Drugs.”
Published: January 28, 2022
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News