L.A. County D.A. to dismiss 60,000 past marijuana convictions

The nation’s largest prosecutor’s office is moving to dismiss roughly 60,000 marijuana convictions, the latest step to undo what some reform advocates consider the damage caused by narcotics enforcement carried out before Californians voted to legalize marijuana, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón announced Monday.

Under prior Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, the office moved last year to dump 66,000 marijuana convictions that took place before voters passed Proposition 64, the state law legalizing recreational marijuana use. But that list was compiled using information collected by the California Department of Justice, and Gascón said his office was able to identify tens of thousands more eligible cases by combing L.A. County court records.

“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” Gascón said in a statement. “It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services that previously were denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”

Gascón has long championed efforts to reverse what he sees as the racially disparate and overly punitive impacts of the nation’s war on drugs. While serving as San Francisco’s top prosecutor, he sought the dismissal of nearly 9,000 felony and misdemeanor marijuana convictions that were processed prior to the passage of Proposition 64.

Approximately 20,000 of the convictions expected to be expunged were for felony possession or cultivation of marijuana, according to Jean Guccione, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney’s office. The remaining were misdemeanors filed in jurisdictions that do not have their own city attorney’s offices, she said. It was not clear how far back the case review went, but while in San Francisco, Gascón had sought to overturn cases dating back to the mid-1970s.

Felicia Carbajal, executive director of the Social Impact Center, a Los Angeles-based community center, said her organization first helped identify the discrepancy in Los Angeles County’s handling of case expungements, noting the potential problem with relying solely on California Department of Justice records to identify cases that would qualify for relief.

Carbajal said she contacted Lacey’s staff abut the problem last year but received no reply. Lacey could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Gascón said he also plans for prosecutors to work with the public defender’s office to seek a “blanket” court order to seal records of the convictions for the thousands of defendants impacted by the move.

“Over 100,000 Angelenos have been impacted by this war on marijuana after the voters told us they overwhelmingly wanted to stop this … we want to basically erase the harm,” he said.

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