Weed legalization has been a good thing for most Americans, ending the absurd criminalization of a safe and useful substance. But what hasn’t often been addressed as states have legalized recreational pot and industrialists have cashed in, are the thousands of mostly poor and brown people who still have charges on their record related to selling or possessing cannabis.
Now, San Francisco will take a step in the right direction on this issue, expunging the records of over 9,300 people with weed-related offenses going back to 1975, according to San Francisco Chronicle.
California’s Proposition 64, which legalized recreational weed for people over 21 after it was voted in two years ago, also allowed for the expungement of some weed-related convictions. But San Francisco is the first city to take the initiative to actually enact this policy under the new law.
This project is the work of District Attorney George Gascón, who used an open source computer algorithm to find which records qualified. The program was created by Code for America, a nonprofit organization that uses open source tech to improve government. Their algorithm sorted through cases to find which were eligible under the criteria set forward in Prop 64.
Without the program, eligible people need to come forward on their own and petition the government for their records be expunged. To do so, they need to hire a lawyer and go through a complex process, something that many of the people with weed convictions can’t afford. Only 23 people had come forward to request expungement before Gascón’s initiative.
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“Contact with the criminal justice system should not be a life sentence, so we’ve been working to reimagine the record clearance process,” Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America’s founder and executive director, told the Chronicle. “This new approach, which is both innovative and common sense, changes the scale and speed of justice.”
Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who now supports weed legalization, once had Gascón’s job as DA for San Francisco. During her term, she opposed a 2010 proposition that would have legalized cannabis, calling it “flawed public policy.” She now says she supports expunging the records of people convicted of weed charges.
Over the next weeks, Gascón will send the 9,362 eligible cases to a judge for final approval.
“It’s incumbent that we, as law enforcement leaders, continue to evolve how we advance fairness and public safety in our respective communities,” Gascón told the Chronicle. “I hope that our success with Code for America can act as a catalyst for other leaders looking to engage in similar innovative and out-of-the-box methods to reform and rethink what our criminal justice system looks like.”